Multi Channel Marketing

Apr 01, 18 Multi Channel Marketing

Like the traveler who asked the way in Ireland and was told, “If I wanted to go there, I wouldn’t be starting from here”, the journey towards the future of ecommerce has often involved a certain amount of rethinking, and not infrequently, backtracking. When the pioneers of ecommerce set out with their first ideas, few if any envisaged the appearance of Web 2.0 as we see it today; or the emergence of customer-generated content in its present forms; or the way that broadband adoption would drive the spread of hosted applications.

Consequently, those planning an ecommerce development or upgrade today are working in a very different landscape. The basic principles behind successful ecommerce are more clearly established – but there are many new considerations to take into account.

Product merchandising

Today’s internet is far more competitive. Although the number of users has increased way beyond expectations, in the last few years large corporations like Tesco and Argos have muscled in, taking a big share of the market.

To compete, smaller companies need to use their web site’s ability to suggest additional purchases and maximize the revenue from each sale. Nowadays Amazon’s pioneering ‘people who bought that also bought this’ function can be implemented even by small companies with an affordable ecommerce package. For maximum advantage, you need the ability to create a flexible range of merchandising functions for upselling, cross-selling and product bundling. These include ‘buy A and get X off B’-type deals, as well as time-limited offers, which are good for generating a quick response.

Once your customer’s basket is full, aim to get them through the checkout quickly. Any shopping cart worth its salt will be able to store shoppers’ contact details, either in a cookie or securely on the web site so that they don’t have to complete them again next time.

Amazon’s popular 1-Click ordering gives shoppers the option to have all their details stored securely and recalled for future orders. PayPal Express Checkout enables any merchant to offer the same facility to customers with PayPal accounts.

Some stores, including Amazon, have implemented a fully-enclosed checkout in which all site navigation and other links are suppressed, so there are no distractions to discourage the shopper from completing the purchase.

Going multi-channel

In the early days, ecommerce sat alone as a purchasing ‘toy’ used mostly by techies and early adopters. Today it is integrated into the overall shopping experience. Customers may order online for collection in store; research online and order by phone; or browse a catalog, and order online for home delivery. Sadly in many companies, ecommerce is less well integrated into their overall business process.

In this ‘multi-channel’ world, you need to present a similar view of your company, across all points of contact. Include your phone number and your web, email and postal addresses in all communications. Answer emails as promptly as voicemail messages. Deal with returns consistently, regardless of how goods were ordered. As far as possible, offer the same products across all channels. To achieve all this, you will need to train and reward staff appropriately, and give everyone access to all the customer data they need. And avoid having internal structures that create competitiveness between channels.

Customer generated content

Many web users expect more than a passive browsing experience. They want to interact with web sites, and to see what other visitors have experienced. In the early days, such interaction was limited to an entry in the site’s visitor’s book. What’s on offer today is far more sophisticated.

eBay shoppers have long been able to provide public feedback about products and suppliers. Most companies fight shy of allowing such public and uncontrolled comment on their own sites. However, many do allow customers to post reviews and ratings of products they purchase, and there is good evidence that this increases sales. Providers like Revoo enable you to add such functionality to your own site, with the added benefit that the reviews published are seen as unadulterated and fully independent.

There are other ways of implementing this type of content, such as the addition of a forum to your site, or opening up a company presence on social networking sites like Myspace, Facebook, and Second Life.

In its simplest form, of course, businesses have used customer endorsements in their marketing for centuries, and there is no reason not to do the same on your web site.

Marketplaces and price-comparison

Two more things have changed the face of ecommerce for businesses. One is Amazon opening up its system to third parties to sell goods through its site. The other, and similar to it, is eBay’s transition from a pure auction site to a full-blown marketplace, with thousands of traders selling brand new goods at knock-down prices. It’s now no more difficult to buy items from Hong Kong than it is from your nearest Asda. These new marketplaces, and others like Play Trade, can give any business direct and immediate access to the largest groups of customers the world has ever seen.

Price comparison (or product search) sites like Kelkoo and Shopping.com have been around a while. Shoppers use them to compare prices for the same product from different suppliers, to compare the specs of similar products, and to see how other users rate them. Google Shopping does the same thing, but has one added benefit for merchants – it’s free to submit your products. All you need is a free Google Account.

What these different routes to market have in common is the method for submitting your products to them. You need to generate a ‘feed’, which is an export of your product information in a structured format called XML.

To make the most of these new and growing routes to market, your ecommerce system should have the flexibility to generate XML feeds in the specific varieties required by any distribution network that you wish to use.

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