Live from eTail 2005: REI’s Channel Integration Tips

Palm Desert, CA–One size don’t not fit all when it comes to channel integration, said Joan Broughton, vice president of multichannel programs for outdoor products marketer Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI).

Addressing attendees at the eTail show, Broughton noted a few elements that made REI’s channel integration easier, including the fact that the company has one phone number and common SKUs for all channels. The company has also had kiosks in its stores since 1998 that link store customers to online inventory; REI is now also using the kiosks for its gift registry, launched a year ago.

The nearly $1 billion REI started offering instore pickup for items bought online about 18 months ago. Broughton revealed that Web orders picked up in any of REI’s 77 stores now make up 30% of the company’s online sales–much more than it had anticipated.

REI had a head start in such channel integration, as it has allowed customers to return Web orders to its stores since it launched its Website in 1996. But getting store employees on board to receive and store the Web merchandise to be picked up was another story. To make it more palatable, REI rewards the stores for their role. The Internet may get the credit for the sales, but the stores are recognized as contributing to them. This has helped the stores meet their sales goals and take part in incentives, Broughton said.

Marketers should remember that the hardest part about channel integration isn’t necessarily the technology, Broughton said. A successful program requires extensive training and communication, always making the customer the focal point, she said. Also, you may have to let go of traditional perspective. With each decision made, you have to ask yourself, “Would the customer understand that?”

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