Direct-to-Customer Commerce

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Strategic insights into the direct commerce industry, including ecommerce, direct marketing and related fields

What will likely happen in Q4

Press reports are starting to come out that:

  • retailers are not hiring as many seasonal employees for 2009Q4.
  • merchandise orders for Q4 may be as much as 20 percent lower than in previous years

What can we concluded from these two facts:

  • customer service in retail, brick & mortar stores may reach an all-time low.  There simply won’t be anyone around to help you.  You’ll probably have a hard time just finding someone to take your money.
  • e-commerce sites will gain sales faster than ever before — for multiple reasons:

First, because you can check yourself out and don’t have to rely on finding someone to help you.

Second, retailers will likely make sure inventory for their online store is broad and deep.  Because they can sell to anyone, anywhere at anytime.  Thus, they will more likely sell thru online store inventory than physical store inventory.  Plus, they can replenish inventory for the online store faster than they can to physical stores (at least, in most cases).

Third, buying online is less frustrating and annoying than going to a store.  This will be especially true, because there will be fewer sales discounts in physical stores (due to lower inventories) and fewer people to help (see “First”).

*  *  *  *  *

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Total direct commerce sales (as reported by the Commerce Dept) remains about five percent of retail sales, but direct commerce sales are growing reliably, while total retail sales has been in decline for most of the past 12 months.  The bottom-line:  We will see direct commerce (online & catalog) take a big jump forward in Q4.

That in turn will cause at least a short-term increase in activity during the first half of 2010 by companies who will seek to upgrade their online store, or maybe even finally set one up.

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Filed under: Direct Commerce, Opinion, , , , ,

Developing a uniform Brand experience across multi-channel

There are two sides to this question — and most see it as a marketing issue.  And certainly it has serious marketing implications.  But the Brand experience is not built entirely upon how merchandise is presented or described.  A huge portion of the Brand experience is based upon customer interactions.

Almost intuitively, we know that we must provide appropriate value to the customer (the combination of price and quality).  However, in addition, we need to treat customers in a way that matches their expectations of the Brand.

And there is a problem with customer interactions across different channels.  After all, it makes somewhat obvious sense that it’s difficult to interact with a customer the same way in a face-to-face scenario, compared to a call center scenario, compared to an ecommerce scenario.

But a truly uniform Brand experience in a multi-channel environment seems to demand more similarity than differences in the nature of those diverse interactions.

So, how do you do it>

I can only suggest a strategy:  deploy a single order management system across all channels.

Boy, that seems simple.  Conceptually, of course, it is pretty simple.  But it’s also deceptively simple and, in reality, very difficult.  And the difficulty is not in the technology, but rather in the management.  It’s likely you will also want a single warehouse management system, as well.  But that’s not as essential, because it’s possible to move inventory & product data between multiple systems and a single OMS.

But the central obstacle to accomplishing this goal is willingness of different internal departments collaborating on a single solution.

In a sense, this is another form of channel conflict — but it’s at the operational level, rather than at the sales level.

To execute this solution, retail operations, customer contact center operations and ecommerce operations must agree on a single OMS to capture sales orders and manage customer transactions at all points of sale — regardless of channel.

Then all these units must collaborate to develop uniform training for staff, based upon uniform company policies.

It’s Change Management 101 — something that almost always gets short shrift.  And, although I don’t mean it personally, it is often the fault of marketing / sales, because they are too anxious to build sales rather than build an enduringly satisfied customer.

Often, only the CEO can solve this, with the patient understanding of the board and shareholders.

Not so simple after all, is it.

Filed under: Direct Commerce, Ideas, Opinion, , , , , , ,

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