Guillaume: Hello everyone. Guillaume Le Tual here, host of the Ecommerce Wizards Podcast where I feature leaders in e-commerce and business. Today’s guest is Tyler Sperry from a quite famous company, America’s Test Kitchen, a TV show that has run for over 23 seasons. There is another TV show that’s called Cook’s Country which is running its 15th season. So it’s a pretty well known company and they happen to be running on Adobe Commerce which was formerly known as Magento Enterprise as their e-commerce platform. And today’s topic will be a merchant testimonial using Adobe Commerce, so the good, the bad, the ugly, uncensored, unfiltered, and we’ll see what Tyler has to say about this. Tyler, thanks for being here today.
Tyler: Hey, nice to meet you. Thank you for having me.
Guillaume: My pleasure. Can you give us a brief overview of your responsibility at America’s Test Kitchen?
Tyler: Sure. So as you mentioned, I’m the Director of E-commerce and Affiliates at ATK in short. And what I oversee, so the main part of my team’s responsibilities is really just overseeing the Magento platform. So everything from the back-end, as simple as setting up the products and promotional activities all the way to kind of the development roadmap, the new features, working on bugs and look what goes on, anything that has to do with the back-end, we oversee, we work on it day-to-day. The other piece that my team is responsible for is, any product in our shop except our cookbooks we actually source, we work with vendors, we work with merchants, we source all those products ourselves. So any branded merchandise you see was internally designed at source. So there’s the product piece and along with that comes all the promotional management. So we work very closely with our marketing team on all the campaigns and any products that you see launched within the shop.
We also oversee all logistics and operations. So we are in day-to-day contact with our 3PL who’s based in Ohio. So from order management, to packaging, to reporting analytics, anything that has to do with operations we manage as well. And then the last piece is the affiliates piece of our business. So we have a pretty robust affiliates’ program. You mentioned our TV shows, but another very big part of our business is our consumer reporting. So we have a reviews team who tests kitchen equipment every day, all day. We kind of go out there and we say, ‘Hey, this is the best roux processor and here’s why, and we have tests we’ve put it through’. It’s a very robust program. We put equipment through the wringer and we kind of come out with, ‘Hey, this is the best, this is what you should have’. So we have a program that links to Amazon or other affiliate partners if people want to purchase those, link those pieces of equipment through one of our websites and we have that affiliate program and have those commissions through partners like Amazon. I think those are the four buckets that fall under my team.
Guillaume: And I think there’s more coming up on the TV stuff, I don’t know if you’re allowed to disclose that?
Terry: Oh, yeah, the new TV show. That actually launched on February 9th. I think the sixth episode has launched or is coming out on Friday. It’s brand new for ATK, we just launched in partnership with Amazon Studios, it’s called America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation. It is a first for ATK, it’s a cooking competition. The winner of that series becomes a cast member on America’s Test Kitchen and they get a cookbook deal, so pretty much they get a job of a lifetime. So they’re all home cooks, not professional cooks, home cooks who come to our studio, so everything is filmed in our office, in our kitchens, and they compete for a job on the TV show. So it’s fun, it’s a great show.
Guillaume: With a big cash prize as well, right?
Tyler: Yeah, there’s a spot on the TV show, there’s a cookbook deal and $100,000 cash prize for the winner. So it’s pretty great. It’s very fun.
Guillaume: I like the business model where you guys totally test stuff and anything that you sell online. A lot of merchants just get a few big catalogs from some distributors and then they just push let’s say 10,000 products, 100,000 products that they’ve never used, never tried, never tested. So I like the quality approach that you guys have where you endorse these products. Say, we’ve tested all the food processors or whatever and we believe this one is the best, here’s the pro, here’s the con, and so on. So this is pretty interesting as a business model and I believe quality will tend to always stick as a winning business model. So now if we dive into our main topic, let’s start chronologically. Do you remember why you guys picked Magento Enterprise, now it’s called Adobe Commerce, over the other platforms?
Tyler: Yeah. I’ve been here now for almost seven years. So when I started at ATK we did have kind of like a bookstore, it was very simple but it was on Magento 1 platform. So even prior to me coming to ATK we were already utilizing Magento 1 in a very simple way, just selling our books directly to our subscribers. So when I came in we had this idea to kind of expand our e-commerce business so we did some work looking at Shopify, thinking about staying with Magento, and what we decided to do is actually a two-pronged approach. We had our bookstore and we didn’t want to disrupt that so we actually stood up a smaller shop with the equipment and the new branded merchandise we wanted to test on Shopify. Because Shopify is easy to use, you can kind of quickly stand up a shop if you have the infrastructure and the resources to do it. So in about a month we stood up the Shopify shop as an interim kind of test. Once we knew we wanted to move forward with that we then redesigned and stood up a brand new shop on Magento 1 and the reason we decided to stay on Magento is really due to the flexibility of the platform. If you have the coding skills or you have developers you can work with, you can really make Magento whatever you want it to be. So that was very enticing to us. Don’t get me wrong, Shopify is great, there’s a lot you can do with it. I love Shopify but for our business model we felt Magento really was the place for us to stay.
And then back in 2019, when Magento was stopping any support on Magento 1, we were kind of forced to move into Magento 2 which I really should have done sooner, it was a great move. The Magento 2 is an even better platform. So we launched in 2020 our brand new shop on Magento 2. To really go back to your question, the reason we stayed on Magento was really due to the flexibility and being able to make our shop experience exactly what we wanted. We have a slightly complicated business model so aside from the TV shows that you mentioned, we also publish sometimes up to 12 cookbooks a year, we have an online cooking school, our business models are all subscription based so you have to be a subscriber to ATK in order to get our online content; so access to our recipes, access to our reviews. So there’s a lot of different pieces that we needed to kind of bring together. Magento is the platform that allows us to do that exactly how we need to do it.
We work with a third party order management company who manages all of our physical orders. So like any cookbook that’s ordered, any apron that’s ordered from our shop or a piece of equipment, they manage all those orders as well as all of our renewals and our subscriptions and we assign magazine subscriptions, which I didn’t mention. So we go everything from digital to magazines, to actually selling physical products. And we really needed a tool that would allow us to stand all those different products up but at the same time be able to expand upon those anytime we wanted to, or in any way we wanted to. And we feel Magento really allows us to do that.
Guillaume: Pretty neat. Yes, you’re correct on this. Shopify and Magento are more or less the flip side of the coin of each other, the more complex the project the more it’s a Magento and the simpler the project the more it’s a Shopify. Even if it’s a very large company you can have something that is simple, like small, medium, large, red, green, blue T-shirts. So the simpler the project the more of a Shopify it is because Shopify is cheaper to put in place, is cheaper to maintain. So it just makes sense if that business can run on Shopify, but if it doesn’t give you the horsepower and flexibility. The other side of the spectrum will be Magento which is Adobe Commerce now. So you mentioned a lot of the good and you run the platform day-to-day, I don’t know if there’s more that you want to add to the good section before moving on to the bad or what’s next?
Tyler: Yeah. I mean, a few things that I’ve noticed since moving to Magento 2 that I think have been really key for our business is like the built-in SEO features which have been really great for our business to the point of being able to customize and really be flexible with that. We’ve actually, for our own sake, been able to develop and make those fields required anytime we create a product. So we’re never forgetting to really think about SEO and to make sure that we’re putting our best foot forward there for getting all that traffic. So we really like a lot of the features making SEO just easy to optimize in Magento. The flexibility, being able to create our own themes, you know, kind of really design the shop experience around what we want. A big thing that we’re actually tackling this year is we have our recipe site, so we have America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated. The shop experience is kind of separate from our recipe site experience and we really want to start bringing those two experiences together and making our shop more of a resource for anyone but a benefit for our members as well.
So Magento, just based on the flexibility that it has and the work we could do there is really going to allow us to bring these experiences together in a seamless way.
So I guess going back it’s just the flexibility, the ability to do the development we need to do and we have a great third party partner we work with who understands our business and knows what our goals are. So we work with them daily to just really bring this whole experience to life. Every time we finish one project there’s another one where we want to stand up, so Magento just allows us to kind of continue to grow. There’s also the app piece, so there’s the extension and so if we need to we can plug into a third party extension, if those don’t give us what we want we can work with our developers to kind of develop our own tool. So you kind of get the best of both worlds there too.
Guillaume: Pretty neat. Yes, it’s a good summary. In business and entrepreneurship you always have new ideas and you invest in what works and what generates money. So it just makes sense to have a very flexible platform, you can evolve, especially at the size of companies you guys are. So you need to of course have the resources to be able to have people who work for you to customize a platform so you can fully leverage it. One mistake that I see sometimes is companies that are too small going on to these kinds of big platforms. It’s really made for the midsize corporations and the smaller enterprises’ great companies, if you can call it that.
Tyler: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I would say for anyone thinking between Shopify or Magento, those are the questions you have to ask yourself. Do I have the resources or can I code myself? Because if you’re a smaller business who doesn’t either have the ability to work with a third party developer that is really well-versed in Magento or have the skills yourself, I don’t really think you’re going to get out of Magento what you need. Because it does definitely require some additional resources depending on what you want to do with Shopify and how big you want to make it or what you may not, you may not get the same goals achieved if you don’t have the resources to do it.
Guillaume: Sure, I agree.
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Guillaume: Since you work day in day out with Magento, are there any things irritating you or annoying you or bad?
Tyler: All right, let’s go there. I think that flexibility, the ability to customize whatever you want also comes with some negatives. As we were just going through this week, actually, we just upgraded to the latest version and all those customizations, all the different extensions we have, any time we update or add a new extension there’s always those bugs that pop up that are unexpected causing checkout issues and causing some customer frustrations. So we’re always on the lookout for that stuff due to the customizations we have done and the work we have done. You never know one project could lead to or cause an issue in another extension. So I think that is really our biggest headache that we have with Magento, just staying on top of what may happen or constantly being on the lookout or prepared for little errors, little bugs. We use a great tool that kind of monitors the shop and alerts us to any potential customer friction that we may experience.
Guillaume: Do you want to disclose which tool this is?
Guillaume: Yeah. When you get to that point you should have automated testing daily. So you have that robot just running the script. Can I check out, yes or no? Can it create a new account? Can it reset a password or emails being sent by the server, yes or no? So you get to that extra level. I remember some cases of smaller companies which took a few months before anybody noticed that emails were not being sent. That’s why there were so many requests or copies invoices at customer support. Not that many people cared about the invoice actually but some people did want it and it took a few months to figure out because by default there was no system that I know of. I don’t believe Shopify does that even though I’m not a Shopify expert, it monitors outgoing emails. Because the system can say, send an email, but did it send it? Did that work? It sent a command but did the system actually send it? So you can install some software to monitor this to be sure that your emails are being sent in addition to checkouts and so on. Can I create a user so you have automated testing like this one after any kind of updates even when you do nothing just so that you’re sure your service system is working?
Everything you’re describing is sort of part of everything that’s open-source kind of coding. But regardless of the platform, Magento, WooCommerce, WordPress, or some other open-source system, each time you have all those extensions installed you go to the next version of the extension and their next version of the core, you’re going to have some bugs so you’re going to spend quite some time debugging. And it’s natural because the flexibility comes from the fact that you can change a lot of things even though there are coding standards, you can change a lot of things. So the next version does not necessarily always match perfectly, it needs some custom work to work, unlike when you have a SAS system which reduces the cost by reducing how much you can change. So the fun part is anything you plug in is more or less just going to work right away perfectly because there’s not much you can change. But then if you need to change something, well, there’s not much you can change.
Tyler: Exactly. Yeah. And that’s one of the biggest things we found when we did have that small Shopify shop for a while in that interim period and that was really our frustration. We want what we want, we have an amazing group of designers who do all of our recipe site web design, our product design, and we have a very specific vision and look and theme we want to go for. Magento just allows us to match that as closely as possible to our recipe sites and make that experience seamless. We could have done that with Shopify but it wouldn’t have been exactly what we wanted. There probably would have been some differences. So we’re really able to kind of, again, I think I’ve mentioned this many times throughout this call already, that we were able to really make it what we want. I think I will mention the other great thing about Noibu and what we have built between that tool and Magento, is we actually have that tool on our staging environment as well. So we actually were able to catch some pretty major bugs in the version upgrade on staging before we actually moved that to production. So we were actually able to catch a lot of that, we actually postponed our upgrade while our developers dug into those fixes. And two weeks later they were fixed and we were ready to go. I have to say we are upgrading this week and for the most part pretty smooth. There were just a few UX things we had to kind of tweak, one issue with just some specific coupon codes, but it was pretty seamless. And I think a lot of it has to do with our developers ability to really dig into and find issues quickly with this tool.
Guillaume: Are you using the commerce cloud version or are you self-hosting it?
Tyler: Cloud version.
Guillaume: All right. Anything else that you’d like to share with merchants considering if they want to go on Magento?
Tyler: Yeah, I guess the other thing is I find Magento support to be great as well. Our developers are the ones really kind of working closely if there’s an effort to be opened. But from what I am looped into, we’re typically getting very quick responses and we’re never kind of left hanging when it comes to support needed through Magento. So I do find the support part of Magento to be great. We have our customer account manager so if there’s anything we need, we usually have a source that we can go to at Adobe that’s very helpful.
Guillaume: And just to clarify for anyone listening, this is when you go with the Adobe Commerce cloud version then you get the support directly from Adobe for little things. Adobe will not handle change of any code, they will not do version updates for you, and so on. This is all done by your third party, by your development company. Just to clarify this, for those who self-host, it’s called on-premise, you don’t have much of that coverage on-premise, you will have all the bugs in the core of Magento if you ever find one, which is rare. That would be covered by the Adobe support team because then when you’re in a commerce cloud version, Adobe is your hosting company. So basically, a support ticket would be sent to a hosting company and you send it over to Adobe Vista hosting. And there’s some interesting benefits in the pipeline for the workflow on the cloud version. You could all recreate this manually in the self-hosted environment but it requires a lot of work and effort. But you can just get it out of the box faster, zero downtime deployment, technically it is like five seconds to be precise. But almost nobody is going to click anything for five seconds. The website is there, we just don’t click for those five seconds, any link will work or if you click something and we’ll just refresh again and it will within five seconds. So you have all those pipelines for zero downtime and so on and it’s quite interesting. So that’s a pretty good summary. Thank you for the testimonial there. Any last thoughts to add before wrapping this up?
Tyler: I don’t think so. I think we covered a lot there when it comes to Magento. Yeah, nothing.
Guillaume: And if people want to get in touch with you, Tyler, what’s the best way?
Tyler: I’m on LinkedIn, that’s probably the easiest way. Our email addresses are quite long, america’stestkitchen.com. I think LinkedIn would be an easy way. Tyler Sperry, you can find me on LinkedIn, I’m happy to answer any questions or network where needed.
Guillaume: Awesome. Thank you for being here today, Tyler.
Tyler: Yeah, of course. Thank you.