Everything old is new again

As soon as I arrived in Washington for the eTail conference last month, I was ready to be hit with the latest and greatest online technologies and strategies. And while there was plenty of talk about e-mail strategies, live assistance techniques, and Flex vs. AJAX, the big buzz about the show seemed to be…customer service and fulfillment.

It all started with the CEO of Zappos.com, who gave a keynote on e-commerce lessons the apparel and shoes marketer has learned in its eight years.

Many of the lessons Zappos.com has only recently learned (concentrate on repeat customers, focus on your merchandise niche, don’t compete on price) multichannel merchants have been practicing for decades.

Does this mean old-school catalogers, direct marketers, and fulfillment experts are finally getting the respect they deserve? Maybe.

Editor at Large Ken Magill, who was also covering the eTail show, looks closer at the concept of dot-commers embracing direct marketing basics in “New dogs learn old tricks” on page 21. While one recruiter interviewed for the article says that senior direct marketers with multichannel smarts are now in heavy demand, another noted that some young Internet executives still shy away from hiring traditional DMers.

I expect that more dot-commers will seek out seasoned industry expertise now that they’re starting to understand the power of proven direct marketing techniques and, perhaps more significant, the importance of operations and fulfillment. And if more conventional catalog-style thinking is good enough for the $800 million Zappos…

Though there was one thing that the Zappos chief said that reminded me of the good old dot-com boom days. Someone in the audience asked how Zappos can afford to offer free overnight shipping, adding “doesn’t that kill your margins?” Yes, indeed, “it does kill our margins,” the CEO admitted, but “what we would have spent on marketing we funnel back into shipping” or customer service. “It really is marketing, considering word-of-mouth,” he added.

It’s a progressive notion, to be sure. But try justifying that to your CFO.

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