Archive for April, 2009

E-Commerce 2.0
Sunday, April 19th, 2009

A recent EConsultancy blog reviews UK shoe retailer Clark’s new e-commerce site. While I think the review itself is very insightful and informative, this post actually does a better job describing some of the key features required in a 2nd generation e-commerce site. Personally, I think Clark’s has done a fairly decent job at putting together a very capable and competitive e-commerce site, rich with information and features.  First generation e-commerce sites were very static, with little information, few pictures, difficult to navigate, search and use. It is now a web 2.0 world, and retailers and e-tailers have been moving towards E-commerce 2.0 sites, an environment that provides a rich, easy to use, and social shopping environment. Wikipedia describes E-commerce 2.0 as a more social, personalized shopping experience.

Shopping by definition is ’social’. As quoted by Doc Searls in Cluetrain Manifesto:

“Markets are conversations.  The first markets were filled with people, filled with talk. Some of it was about goods and products. Some of it was news, opinion, and gossip…all of it engaged someone.”

In less technical terms, these are the features of an e-commerce 2.0 site that I think are important:

  • Tell a story - every retailer or merchandiser has a story to tell about a particular collection, model, design or color.  Create a brief video or blog and share this with the consumer. You bought these products and assortments for a reason, now explain this to me, the consumer, so that I will understand why I should want to buy this too. Allow place for questions and discussions among customers.
  • Multi-angle shots - provide lots of clear crisp photos from many angles. When I am in a store, I will pick-up a product and look at it from every angle. I should be able to do the same online.
  • Great search capabilities - I should be able to search by category, collection, model, color, size, with multiple groupings and drill-downs. If I am only interested in high-top black running shoes in size 12, don’t waste my time navigating through other products. I should be able to select and de-select multiple tags and multiple search criteria at any time, until I get the specific product or group of products that interest me.
  • Simple and timely registration - do not make me register until I absolutely have to. If I am forced to register earlier than I need to, I’m gone. Make registration simple and quick with the least amount of information required possible. If I miss a field or enter incorrect information, take me right to that field with a  clear explanation of what I need to do to correct it. I hate having to re-submit a registration 6 times, before getting it ‘right’!

    Credit to: Dan Eriksson

  • Quick check-out - checkout has to be quick, simple and well-guided. Provide clear indication of where I am, what I am doing, what is next, and what I may have missed every step of the way. I do not want any surprises where I have to go back a few steps or even worse start all over again! I should be able to add/remove items from my shopping cart at anytime.
  • Customer reviews - allow customers to post reviews and rate products. These should be easily entered and reviewed.
  • Social & intercactive - overall the site needs to have plenty of place for discussion and social interaction. Questions and answers with buyers and other company employees, open discussion threads, comments on product reviews, customer feedback on site, product collections, service/delivery, etc.

This is now a web 2.0 world and customers expect a different experience. Aside from being able to shop with ease there is a need to provide a social experience. People will still go shop in stores for this experience, but providing a social experience when shopping or learning on-line,  will attract more customers and provide them a better overall on-line experience.

What do you think is important in the next generation of e-commerce sites? What would make the overall experience better and easier? What are some of your favorite places to shop or browse online? Please share your thoughts.

Social Media Marketing; Where’s the ROI for Retailers?
Monday, April 13th, 2009

I get asked this question all the time. I read numerous blogs, articles, emails, newsletters, and hear casual conversations where this  question is raised.  While a straightforward answer may be hard to come by, I don’t think social media should be dismissed.  Retailers should start exploring this medium as soon as possible. There are two questions a retailer needs to consider:

  1. What’s the cost in using social media?
  2. How do you measure the results?

The goal of any marketing effort/campaign must have results that are measurable. Otherwise, how do you know if you are spending your time & money wisely? How do you know if you are doing well? Let me be clear, these questions will not be easily answered but here are a few suggestions to think about. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these questions:

 

I. What’s the cost in using social media?

This is the easier question to answer. Social media is known for it’s very low cost of entry. While there are no significant development or production costs, time is needed and the more areas of social media entered and the more frequent postings made, the more time that will be needed. Nonetheless, costs for the amount of time and effort spent in this area can be easily measured.

 

II. How do you measure the results (ROI)?

credit to: Bob Troia

credit to: Bob Troia

This is not as easy a question to answer. First you have to state your goals/ojectives. Obviously the main goals will be to increase sales, traffic, and brand awareness. Why else spend time and energy in this area? The problem with these traditional goals, is that it will be difficult to measure. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to associate the impact on these goals as a direct result of what you are doing with social media. This is why, I believe that secondary goals must be set, so that you can measure the effectiveness of your social media campaign.  

 

For example, set goals of actual numbers or percentage increases for the following:

  • The number of visitors to your blog
  • The number of comments/conversations on your blog
  • The number of Facebook fans
  • The number of Twitter followers.
  • The number of online references to your brand or company name.

 

These results will at least indicate whether you are headed in the right direction. The thought is that as you increase your social media presence you will attract more loyal customers that will spend more money. Maybe you will be able to see such a correlation. Please take a look at this article (How to Measure Social Media ROI for Business) which offers further ideas/examples in this area.

While ROI may be difficult to measure at this very early stage, I believe the cost of NOT using social media is greater than the actual cost of using it. Social media is growing at an increasingly rapid rate. It takes time to build content, followers, and attention through this media. It can have a rapid and viral rate of increase, but does not simply happen overnight. If you are not starting to use social media, your competitors will, and eventually you will be playing catch up. Why not take the lead?

What do you think? How can retailers measure success with social media? What factors and costs should be considered?

Connecting Data, Connecting Systems, Connecting People
Monday, April 6th, 2009

I recently launched my new company web-site for RIBA Retail with its overriding theme of connecting data, connecting systems, connecting people.

At RIBA Retail, we specialize in retail technology consulting, services, and development. We have been performing data conversions and data integration for retailers for a long time! It still amazes me how many difficulties retailers run into when trying to convert data or integrate systems. I don’t know about other industries, but having worked with retail systems for over 25 years, I know that retail systems can be very complex. There are many applications/systems to deal with - POS, merchandising, replenishment, warehouse, planning & forecasting, assortment planning, allocation, price optimization, business intelligence, financials, order fulfilment, just to name a few. Things get even more complex for those retailers that also operate a wholesale business like Tory Burch, Quiksilver, and Skechers. Retail is a dynamic business, with new channels and new business applications being developed all the time. 

Retailers have come to understand the importance of offering a complete cross-channel shopping experience, which is no longer simply a competitve differentiator, but a retailing necessity.

According to a recent RSR study, “a satisfied multi-channel shopper can be a retailer’s most profitable customer’”.

Yet, even still, retailers struggle with data consistency and a seamless multi-channel business.

According to this same RSR study; “Retail business process disconnects continue to keep them from becoming more effective cross-channel retailers.”

For the retailer, it is becoming increasingly important that they accomplish the following in order to offer a cross-channel experience:

  • Share product information across all channels for brand consistency. Descriptions, prices, and images in one channel must match other channels. Consumers are becoming savvier and expect to connect with your brand the same way in all channels.
  • Inventory availability must be immediate and accurate in all channels. Customers expect to get product when they want regardless of which channel it is coming from.
  • Customers must be recognized and consistent across all channels. A customer that shops in the store, is the same customer that may shop online, or on her iPhone. And the retailer better recognize and reward that customer regardless of channel.   
  • Lastly, retailers need to add the human side. Its not only about systems, but with the advent of social media, it is very much about people too. Retailers need to engage, inform, and ‘connect’ with their customers in all channels in a consistent manner.

 

credit to Core Media Images

credit to Core Media Images

So, why is this so diffcult to accomplish? Why do retail operations and channels appear to be so disconnected? First of all, retail systems are many and often disparate. While there has been a recent consolidation of retail systems and more vendors offering a full ERP solution, there are still many disconnects. Even some leading ERP vendors have difficutly connecting their own systems (but I’ll deal with that topic on another post). Inherently, retail systems can be complex. There are ERP systems, best of breed applications, homegrown systems, and retailers may have a variety of these. With all these different systems, how can retailers possibly connect all their data and all their systems in a seamless way?

Based on my experience, I would like to offer a few tips that retailers should think about when connecting data and integrating systems:

  1. Data must flow between systems automatically and on a timely basis. Manually entering some information from one system to another maybe acceptable in some cases, but most data should flow automatically.
  2. Even though systems will have different types and lengths of fields/descriptors, they must be setup in a manner that will be acceptable and consistent across all systems (finding that lowest common denominator).
  3. Data must be mapped appropriately. Certain entitites may have different codes or names from one system to another. If product is called ‘x’ in one system and ‘y’ in another, there must be the proper and accurate mapping mechanism in place to communicate information between systems.
  4. New/updated customers and inventory updates must be fed to all appropriate systems, so that all channels reflect customers and available inventory in a timely and accurate manner.
  5. Validate, validate, validate. All data converted or integrated must be validated and verified for completeness and accuracy.
  6. Efficient method for identifying and handling errors via system alerts and error logs, so that problems can be quickly identified, corrected and re-processed.

Keeping these few suggestions in mind will help significantly reduce problems and disconnects for any data conversion or integration project. Please feel free to add your own tips/suggestions based on your own experiences.

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