Katharine McKee is the founder of Morphology Consulting. The company is a “digital commerce consultancy that uses algorithmic structure to optimize a company’s strategy to gain them profitable, exponential growth.”
Prior to Morphology, Katharine McKee spent 13 years “building out digital commerce capability across pillars such as CPG, FMCG, Luxury,” and “Beauty and Apparel.”
As an ecommerce professional, Katharine McKhee has proven her leadership and her expertise on systems. She focuses “on building clean processes and organizations.”
Katharine McKee has already “overhauled the digital go-to-market for more than 50 brands and has sustainably increased client’s revenue up to 600% YoY.”
Her beginnings come from background in finance. In 2010, Katharine McKee was working as a “sales analyst for a small luxury beauty company.”
During a revenue meeting, Katharine Mckee asked “why we didn’t focus on online sales.” She explained why it would help them, and the CFO told her to start it.
That moment was when Katharine McKee’s “deep love of ecommerce systems was born.”
The first year of her stint in ecommerce “created such a love” in Katharine McKee that she hasn’t looked back. She also wore “all of the hats.”
Katharine McKee credits this experience to her success in ecommerce.
Digital is a world in which there is plenty of rope to hang yourself. Katharine McKee, Morphology
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Katharine McKee: I’d love to, thank you.
My backstory is kind of funny, I have a background in finance and was working as a sales analyst for a small luxury beauty company in 2010 or so and in a revenue meeting I asked why we didn’t focus on online sales.
The channel was logically built and our products had a great fan base that weren’t getting what they needed at retail, and in my analysis, we could nail forecasting down to the single unit, which would improve margins tremendously and give us a platform to expand reach, improve MOQs, reduce inventory issues and let us reach customers who shopped at places other than Sephora.
The CFO told me to do it and report back and a deep love of ecommerce systems was born.
I set us up on Amazon and built out plans for go live at all of our eretail locations and opened up accounts with a couple of pure plays and business exploded.
I was able to set up congruent marketing campaigns with our retailers and eventually took over management of our branded sites.
Turns out that a lifetime of being hyper focused on patterns and systems are a great match skill-wise for digital commerce systems.
That first year created such a love that I haven’t looked back.
I’m lucky that it was with a company small enough, that they let me do it, and had me wear all of the hats, I was our procurement team, trade and performance marketing team, online branding, media rep, sales rep, supply chain, operations and sales analyst.
And when I took over our branded sites, I became a UX specialist, an email marketer, our CRM specialist, and social media manager.
I am so thankful, because without the ability to see the whole universe, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Backend systems came naturally and I had been trained in finance, but to see every piece, how supply chain effects demand and how that impacts sales and where customers tell you what they want and how to pivot to get them what they need was an incredible education.
It also made me hyper aware of when tools or agencies don’t see the bigger picture and how easy it is to miss the forest for the trees.
Digital is a world in which there is plenty of rope to hang yourself.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Katharine McKee: My current company is a product of all the previous roles before it.
I have been incredibly lucky to be employee one for eretail or ecommerce at several companies and have had the joy of building out digital commerce capability from the ground up in CPG, Luxury, Beauty and Apparel.
While it was an amazing experience, and I was lucky to be so well supported, I learned that the building was what I loved and what a lot of companies need.
It is something that takes outside help to do right, a consultant who can avoid a lot of the ingrained behaviors and red tape can make much quicker work of a strategy and it has been amazing to be able to do this for such and array of brands.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Katharine McKee: I have been very lucky to be in a position where the market wants what I am able to offer it at this time.
Covid meant pivoting more to tools and video, but it also opened up a world of smaller clients who I wouldn’t have been able to help.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Katharine McKee: Today things are wonderful!
I am lucky to have incredible clients who are ready to see this kind of growth and are ready to transform!
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Katharine McKee: When I first started, I worked for a luxury beauty company and to say I was a fish out of water was an understatement.
Like a lot of high end beauty, everyone who worked there was chic and beautiful and almost all of the sales team were makeup artists, and then there I was, with air dried red hair and sneakers and a leather jacket and glasses (not in the cool way, in the nerd way) with my laptop.
One of the women sales leads took me under her wing, to show me how to sell, and brought me with her to a chic meeting in soho, where they talked about the cool trends they saw coming for their peer group and that was the sales pitch. Super effective.
Then she came with me to one of mine. I sat down with my spreadsheets and profit margin analysis and the VP I was speaking to just laughed and said I set up the weirdest sales meetings but she didn’t care because I made them money.
I think that’s true now. I am not a great sales person, but I am an amazing systems person and in digital commerce those are the rules of the game.
That is the point of differentiation with Morphology.
We aren’t going to pitch you.
We explain the system and the inputs and point out which ones you’re missing and set them up for you.
It isn’t flashy or exciting, but it is incredibly profitable.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Katharine McKee: Work flow systems- tools that can assign steps in a project and let everyone know who completed what and who approved what save hours a day and keep teams happy and motivated.
Transparency is key.
Content syndication- tools that can take one change and pass it across all 30 of your platforms (brand sites, retailer sites, marketplaces) are a game changer, free your teams from being tied down by admin minutia and free your retail partners from having to do updates on their ends.
Digital OKR tools-transparency again, what are our goals, are we hitting them? Are we on the way to them? Is everyone aligned to them? Saves so much time and makes goals crystal clear.
We explain the system and the inputs and point out which ones you’re missing and set them up for you.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Katharine McKee: Good user experience. Are items merchandised well and easy to find? Does your search bar give good results?
Do pages load quickly without popups, do they look good?
Is there useful information on the page?
Can you read and shop easily from both desktop and mobile?
Mobile responsivity is huge one, it is the fastest growing pillar for digital sales and the one customers find the most frustrating.
A frictionless experience is what we should all be striving for.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Katharine McKee: The same way you create trust anywhere else. Do what you say you’re going to do.
Ship on time, honor returns or discounts as you have communicated, be in communication with your customers and be proactive with them.
If there are concerns, address them, celebrate wins with everyone and try to be a force for good in whatever way you can.
Do what you say you’re going to do. Katharine McKee
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Know the system you are in and play by those rules- the internet is built up of systems and rules that are there as directions on how to use them.
If you follow the rules of, say, Amazon, it is pretty easy to get the flywheel effect. It is also just as easy, if not more so, to miss a step (or choose to skip it) and find yourself spending more and more money for very little return and never realizing it is because some data is missing and your pages can’t be ranked properly.
It is fundamentally different than a traditional retail model and it takes great attention to detail.
2. Data is your friend- data is incredibly helpful. Can it be too much and feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose? Yes. Is that a reason to limit it? No.
It is going to help inform all of your decisions and processes down the line, in every aspect of your business. Do the work now to reap the rewards later.
3. Feedback is a gift- don’t take reviews or performance personally, take them for what they are, data.
What could be better or different is a problem every brand runs in to. If you have people willing to tell you to your face, treat that as the gift that it is.
4. Customer experience trumps everything except product- your website matters.
How you merchandise matters, what information you share, the images you use, the way your pages are set up, all matter.
That is how the customer sees you.
Don’t make checkout a nightmare, don’t skimp on content, but don’t make it so heavy a page won’t open.
You have seconds to get that customer what they need.
Set up your site to be as frictionless as possible.
But bear in mind, the slickest site in the world won’t make up for a product they don’t want. Use data and pay attention.
5. Honesty is the best policy- what gets people to convert (after product market fit) is trust.
You don’t have to have the shortest ship window, but it does need to arrive when you say it will, and you need to have given them that information immediately.
The lowest price isn’t what they care about; it’s the value of the product to the price.
Did you explain how it would work; did you listen and take their reviews to heart?
Then they’ll trust you. Show yourself to be a good partner and they will be loyal.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!