Direct-to-Customer Commerce

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

9 Components of Successful Direct Commerce

These are the nine component systems, which should be in place, to execute a successful direct-to-customer retail commerce strategy.  The order is significant in only one point — marketing should be last.  But I’ve found this sequence is generally correct

  1. product master
  2. order management system
  3. single view of inventory
  4. warehouse management system
  5. product delivery
  6. content management system
  7. customer service
  8. web store
  9. marketing

In addition, this applies to e-commerce, brick-and-mortar, mobile, catalog — this is the infrastructure you need.

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Filed under: Direct Commerce, multichannel commerce, Omni-Channel Commerce, , ,

Is show rooming a problem?

Well clearly, it is for some brick & mortar retailers.  At least they think it is.  It’s even reached the pages of the NYTimes (subscription required).

The NYTimes article even postulates that retail merchants should prepare a script of what to say when they catch customers using their store as a show room.

This is a losing battle.

Customers are going to use your store for a show room … at least if you’re selling products where there is a lot of content, a lot of price competition, or the products are simply expensive in the eyes of your prospective buyer.  You cannot stop it.

But you can combat it … but only by differentiating your business from the competition:

  • provide better prices
  • provide better customer service
  • provide a better guarantee
  • provide training
  • provide more information (content)

If you think show-rooming is bad now, this is only the start.  Younger buyers are ever more dependent upon their smart phones.  As they continue and increasingly dominate the buying public, show-rooming will become more and more prevalent.

This is a disruptive pattern.  Consider yourself disrupted.

Now what are you going to do about it.

Filed under: multichannel commerce, Omni-Channel Commerce, Opinion, , , , , , , ,

9 Steps to Multichannel Commerce

This is a slide deck, which I produced and uploaded to slideshare.net.  Click here.

Filed under: multichannel commerce, , , , , , , , , ,

More on Same Day Delivery

Anyone engaged in ecommerce operations is probably following the trade press reports on same-day-delivery.

It’s a gee-whiz offer, but does it increase sales?  Is it profitable?  Is it cost-effective?

For some merchants, it makes all kinds of sense.  In fact, for some, such as florists, it’s almost a requirement.  It makes sense even for office supply stores, and some high-end merchants — Macy’s, Nordstrom and similar companies.

All of these companies have inventory widely dispersed and can take advantage of local courier services or even, as in the case of most florists, have their own existing delivery infrastructure.

But what about everyone else?

Here’s an interesting story from StorefrontBacktalk.com, reporting on Amazon’s recent experience.  It reports that Amazon saw a conversion increase of 20-25% when they offered same-day-delivery,  but few of customers actually asked for same-day-delivery.

Demonstrating a great point:  Marketing is one-thing, but what customers actually want, need or use may be another.

Now, you just have to figure out where you fit on this new paradigm.

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

The eighth step to multichannel commerce

Step 8 is marketing & promotion.

What a can of worms that is … or at least can be!  And obviously, in a single post, I’m not going to cover this topic.  This is a topic of unending variables.

I really only want to make a few points.  First recognize the difference between the channel or medium and the activity.  You can advertise by mail, market by mail and promote by mail.  Mail is a medium of communications.  Advertising, marketing and promoting are the activities.

Multichannel commerce, it seems clear, by definition refers to conducting commerce (which means generating sales) thru multiple channels.  So, I’m not taking about advertising, which is just sending a message.  I’m thinking about making an offer to a customer or prospective customer to conclude a transaction with me.

We have more channels than ever, for commerce:

  • brick and mortar stores (fact-to-face)
  • paper mail (flyers, postcards, letter packages, catalogs)
  • electronic mail
  • social media
  • web store
  • smart phone app
  • tablet app
  • telephone
  • direct response broadcast (radio, television)

… and I’m probably leaving something out.

So, in the ideal world, your marketing & promotion efforts will generate commerce transactions with your customers.  And it should be your customers choice to use any particular channel.  Your offers, products, promotions should all be visible to your customers across all channels.  And that takes no small effort.

Here’s the next important point:  If you can’t measure it, consider not doing it.  The beauty of direct marketing, direct commerce, whatever you choose to call it, is that it’s measurable.  And with technology you can almost measure everything.  But not everything is worth measuring.  But if you’re not measuring anything, you’re wasting a lot of time and money.  And if you’re measuring so much you can’t comprehend the data or analyze the data, you’re still wasting a lot of time and money.

So, be deliberate about what you measure.  The most basic and most useful things to measure are:

  • customers who got an offer
  • customers who bought
  • how much they bought
  • how many they bought
  • what it cost to make the offer
  • what it cost to fulfill the offer

You’ll know a lot, if you keep these six data points for every channel and every promotion.

Think about this … it’s a lot to think about.

Filed under: Ideas, multichannel commerce, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The seventh step to multichannel commerce

We’re getting there, slowly but surely.

This is the step where everyone wants to start … it’s time to set up a web site.

Some of my consulting colleagues have reported there are over 900 ecommerce platforms, from which a merchant can select, upon which they can build an ecommerce store.  The variables seem to go on forever … but don’t forget the previous six steps we’ve outlined.  Those are the non-negotiables (or at least, should be).

After those, nearly everything may negotiable.  Merchants all think their business is unique and needs features or capabilities which other merchants don’t need.  Or they need some feature tweaked.  The only thing I would remind you of is that changes, tweaks and new/modified features cost money.  So, before you go requiring lots of customizing, make sure the customization you need will actually make more money for you than taking the feature, the way it comes.

Consultants love to help clients customize things … often makes them more money.  But many, if not nearly every, merchant asks for things that do not increase sales and may even increase cost or have other negative impacts.

There is a lot to be said for finding an ecommerce platform that has:

  • experience in your industry
  • experience with your other applications, such as Product Master, Inventory, OMS, WMS
  • uses a technology your staff is already familiar with, so you can make minor changes and fixes, yourself
  • an effective user interface, which merchandisers, customer service reps and others can be quickly trained on
  • a plan to stay up-to-date on marketing and technology improvements
  • already supports your current marketing activities
  • supports your current payment processors
  • a good cultural fit with your present staff

When you select your ecommerce platform, you must include every department in the decision.  Don’t let the technology people drive the decision without major input from merchandising, customer service, finance, operations.  It’s very expensive to change ecommerce horses … and the technology itself is not always the most important consideration.

It’s about people and process … the technology is actually less expensive to change.

Then again, take advantage of the technology to improve your processes and perhaps lower your labor costs.

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

The fifth step to multichannel commerce

Step five is building a content management system … a nice overview of CMS appears in Wikipedia — click here.

The principle idea behind CMS is to both capture all the content you develop about your company, your products, your services, your people, etc.  And make it available, in a consistent way, for use in any media.

Of course, the most common use is on web sites and in emails.  But it can also be used in the social media … and should be.  Because at its essence, social media is a private publishing solution, which enables you to build your own subscriber base, present your own content, and advertise your own company.

Thus, content becomes a significant asset, which should be created, maintained and leveraged as much as possible.  A CMS enables these functions.

When you consider how difficult it can be to create good content for your company, and the increasing opportunities to leverage that effort across multiple media for multiple purposes, the obvious value of content management simply explodes.

Filed under: Ideas, multichannel commerce, Opinion, , , , , , ,

The fourth step to multichannel commerce

Step 1 = a single, unified product master

Step 2 = a cross-platform, multi-channel order management system

Step 3 = a single view of inventory, updated in near-real-time.

Step 4 = a warehouse management system capable of item-unit-picking and parcel shipping (fulfillment processing)

More and more warehouse operators are coming to an appreciation of the differences between shipping to stores and shipping to consumer.  For those who don’t, the most typical problem is that both processes use similar terms, but the definition of the term varies with the environment within which you’re working.

Picking for a shipment to a store, is often at the case level.  Picking for a consumer is almost always at the unit level.  A case contains multiple units of a single item.  Pallets contain multiple cases, which may be of a single unit or mixed units — but all in cases.

Fulfillment of consumer orders usually requires:

  • more complicated picking instructions
  • variable picking strategies
  • more difficult packing (read “slower”)
  • slotting optimization (to reduce picker travel time)
  • more sensitive cut-offs for picking orders
  • coordination with multiple parcel carriers (USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL and others) for pick ups based upon class of service (ground or expedited)
  • near-real-time updating of order status and inventory status

These are just the highlights … the actual list goes on much longer.  I’m only trying to highlight the differences between retail fulfillment and consumer fulfillment.

More and more Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are capable of handling both retail and consumer fulfillment.  So, the more difficult matter is personnel management and scheduling.  In a typical retail operation, staff peaks in August-September for shipping Christmas inventory to stores.  And the staff increase is 20-30 percent over base levels.

However, for consumer fulfillment the increase in staff may reach 200-500 percent and run from early November thru mid- to late-December.  This dramatic increase puts a premium on the ability of Human Resources to hire quickly and well; plus the ability to train new people on any specialized tasks.

Filed under: Ideas, Opinion, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The third step to multichannel commerce

Step 1 = a single, unified product master

Step 2 = a cross-platform, multi-channel order management system

Step 3 = a single view of inventory, updated in near-real-time.

This really is a tall order, because, unless you’ve bought into a major software solution, which has this capability built-in, it’s a pretty complicated process.  You have to set up numerous rules about inventory allocation, updating various channels (do you treat all channels the same or do some channels get priority over other channels).

Many merchants find it difficult (if not counter productive) to try to sell the “last available unit” on a web site, but will sell it from a store or the call center.  However, optimal inventory utilization calls for making inventory available where demand is … so you have to find the right balance for your business.  And it may take you time to get comfortable with all of the implications of this problem.

If you can sell any unit thru any channel, you’re most likely to get the highest value for that unit.  And that is likely one of your objectives.

However — and this bears repeating — synchronizing inventory across multiple channels (especially, if it includes brick & mortar stores) is a tall order.  High five to you, if you’ve put this in place.

Filed under: Ideas, Opinion, , , ,

Customers are thinking Omnichannel … and Brands should, too

worth reading, from Chief Marketer

Filed under: News, , ,

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