New Year, New Resolutions

  1. Provide true cross-channel convenience.

    First off, it’s important to clarify what this means. It starts with the ability to purchase across all of your channels equally and efficiently. Circuit City and Sears are two role models for making remote purchasing and in-store pick-up work smoothly. They provide customers with easy-to-follow pick-up instructions via e-mail, and their stores include a dedicated pick-up area.

    Cross-channel convenience also suggests at minimum the ability to return unwanted items to any of your channels, regardless of where or how the item was purchased. Ideally you’d have a dedicated, well-trained staff to handle returns in each channel (including each store). If you do not offer such a service, make cross-training your employees a priority. Also make a point of notifying customers by e-mail once their credit has gone through.

  2. Make the marriage of merchandising and marketing a reality.

    Marketing has been receiving the lion’s share of media attention, from paid inclusion to search engine optimization. Merchandising, though, has taken a bit of a back seat. But while there are many ways to drive traffic to a site at a myriad of cost structures, converting shoppers and convincing them to buy is the dynamic that ensures the success of a site.

    So make it a goal to focus attention on merchandising and marketing simultaneously. Continually review your landing pages to ensure that they are well merchandised and strong on “buy appeal,” with best-sellers, new product, fast movers, impulse items, or a mix of any and all. (Fortunately, testing is relatively simple online!) Your real estate should reflect your audience with appropriate information and a mix of established and promotional techniques that support the brand promise.

  3. Devote adequate resources to reflect the growth of e-commerce and its significance to your business.

    Of the more than 250 respondents to the E-tailing Group’s 2003 Merchant Survey, 67% reported that they garner 10% or more of their business via the Internet. To continue the level of growth that embraces the cost-cutting capability of the Web while innovating on the revenue side of the equation, you need to test products and tools that resonate with shoppers. Sometimes this requires specialists who understand the unique aspects of the e-commerce world.

  4. Brand more on your site and as part of your communication strategy.

    Every brand-centric merchant brings a promise to the customer and should have a clear set of expectations in the customer’s mind. The Web should be another method with which to promote your brand. That can include innovative tactics and strong communication tools along with a consistent visual merchandising strategy that mirrors your offline branding efforts. L.L. Bean is an excellent example of a multichannel marketer that provides a consistent experience whether you shop the catalog, the Website, or one of the stores, thanks in large part to the emphasis on educating shoppers to the singular quality of its products.

  5. Review communication vehicles to move beyond generic alerts and promotions.

    Today most i.merchants use quick e-mail alerts to highlight hot product and liquidate merchandise. But the creative often falls flat and fails to engage. Instead of using e-mail to promote items of importance to you (such as merchandise you need to offload), send messages of importance to the customers — something focusing on romance around Valentine’s Day, for instance. Creativity in the copy and targeted selection will revitalize customers’ interest. Even if they don’t buy from this e-mail, they’ll be engaged enough to open the next one.

  6. Remember, “relevance” is the operative word.

    The days of “people like you bought this” being relevant are fading. When seeking to present shoppers with relevant merchandise, look for upsells and cross-sells for the products that they have selected. Stores and catalogs have long merchandised this way, with shoppers making head-to-toe page selections for their wardrobe or or asking to duplicate an in-store display. The Web has the unique ability to display matching and coordinating items on product and order pages, so take advantage of the technology to increase your average order.

  7. Make analytics a priority so that you can continually improve your business.

    Recently a client of mine was looking for industry benchmarks on upselling on the product page. In a random survey of 25 merchants, just six were able to provide me with those numbers, though a number mentioned that the analytics’ technology they had recently purchased would soon be able to address that issue. Moving beyond guessing into truly understanding which merchandising tactics are delivering the best results is essential and long a staple of successful direct marketers.

  8. Let the customer have it his or her way.

    Exemplary service means enabling customers to check their order status online and communicate easily with customer service via a visible toll-free phone number or e-mail (and in the latter case, responding within 24 hours). A flexible returns policy and empowering your staff to know when to make an exception rather than follow a rule makes the difference in retaining loyal customers.

  9. Make shopping your Website a fun experience.

    When I reviewed most of the online purchases I made in 2003, I noticed that they were “directed” in nature — in other words, they were gifts, travel, entertainment tickets, children’s toys and clothing, and other commodities that I needed quickly. Only a few times did I go online to see what’s new or just to browse. Truthfully, I’m just not having much fun online yet. And until shopping online is as much fun as walking through a mall, the Internet won’t gain much beyond the current 4% penetration of the retail market. So be open-minded in brainstorming for ways to make visits — and repeat visits — to your site entertaining and engaging. Quizzes, editorial, and interactive “dress a model” or “decorate a room” features can go a long way in making your site more fun. Why don’t you try testing a few?

Lauren Freedman is president of the E-tailing Group, a Chicago-based e-commerce consultancy, and the author of It’s Just Shopping, a book on successful online merchandising.

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