Live from eTail 2005: Mind the Expectation Gap

Philadelphia—E-commerce is falling victim to a generation gap of sorts. Or as Cliff Conneighton, senior vice president of marketing for ATG, dubbed it during the opening session at eTail 2005 on Tuesday, an “expectation gap.”

Most i.merchants are in the third generation of e-commerce. If first-generation Websites were informational and second-generation newly transactional, third-generation sites marry marketing and sales. But according to Conneighton, consumers are looking for the fourth generation of e-commerce, “where the customers get what they expect.” While the industry as a whole is moving toward that generation, it’s not there yet.

Customers want timely, relevant information that’s “consistent across channels and appropriate,” Conneighton said. “We have a generation now of supershoppers who nearly always research online before they buy.”

How can you close the gap? Among Conneighton’s suggestions:

• Target content for relevance. Bear in mind that not everyone who comes to your site wants the same thing. He advised defining segments based on an analysis of all visitors’ behavior, then responding to each segment based on analyzing individuals’ behavior.

Dynamic real-time merchandising is a case in point. If Jane comes to an apparel merchant’s home page before navigating in search of shoes, when she returns to the home page or a landing page, the marketer could, based on real-time click-stream analysis, offer up a page highlighting shoes, even if shoes weren’t prominently displayed on the original home page.

• Be consistent through all your channels. If Joe is researching power tools on your site, he expects to find the Acme-brand drill he settled on when he comes into your store to complete the purchase. If the store doesn’t have the drill in stock, it should be able to get him one, perhaps from a neighboring store or via a kiosk. And you’d better be prepared to sell it at the price listed online, if that price is cheaper.

• “Test everything, regardless of what you think is happening and what you think your customers want.”

In conclusion, Conneighton said, “the customer experience is the brand…give your customers the power to love you.”

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