Multi-channel Retailing, 10 Tips
You can understand why multi-channel retailing has become the latest bandwagon to jump on. According to the IMRG index, in March 2006 the year-on-year growth rate for online sales was around 50%, with £2bn transacted for the month. In contrast, last Christmas saw High Street sales rise by a mere 0.9 per cent. Both traditional retailers and catalogue suppliers are increasingly moving online and combining marketing and fulfillment through all channels.
This presents new challenges and there are some major traps for the unwary. Apart from the obvious point that selling on the web requires some different skills, it’s crucial to replicate brand values and a proper level of service. Problems in one channel will equally damage the other.
The following tips are designed to help stimulate your thinking about how to plan and operate a successful multi-channel strategy. They only scratch the surface of the subject, but should help you identify most of the key issues for your business.
1. Remember the Customer
The heart of a multi-channel strategy is to allow the customer to interact with you as they choose. The systems, processes and staff training to provide multi-channel should be assembled with customer choice as the central theme.
2. Remember, These Are Your Best Customers
Research says that multi-channel customers are more profitable than other customers, so treat them well. Having multiple channels should also help you to attract such customers. Make sure that your marketing strategy flaunts your capabilities.
3. Provide a Seamless Experience
Get yourself organised so that everyone is motivated to support customers buying through the channel that they want. This means allowing returns through any channel, rewarding loyalty through any channel equally and probably allowing vouchers and gift vouchers to be used across all channels.
4. Price the Channel in Relation to Cost
It’s best to offer your best prices via the channel with lowest associated costs. If you don’t do this, you will be left with the most business in your highest cost channel where you will make less margin -?? because you are cheaper than the competition. At the same time you will have less business in your low cost channel where you are too expensive.
5. Provide a Consistent Product Range
Have the same range available online as is available in your shops. If you are trying to leverage your offline brand into online sales then your buyers will approach your site with their expectations set by what they have experienced in your store. If the item they expect is not available online, they will be disappointed. In fact, it’s unlikely that they will bother looking again on your site as by now they will have discovered someone with a wider range.
6. Capture Every Possible Order
Use multiple channels to answer "??yes"? to the question "Have you got…?"?. If it’s out of stock, it can be ordered for home delivery or from another store. Maybe they can pick up in-store if you can’t deliver in time from your web store.
7. Avoid Damaging Your Brand
Common sense tells us that consumers see a single brand whether they are looking at a web store or the related retail outlets. While this is obvious, the implication that people expect seamless integration isn’t always so clear. For instance, if they buy in one channel, they expect to be able to return goods via the other. If they look online, they expect to find the stock position in their nearest store.
8. Have the Right Staff
Remember that web and catalogue marketing require a different set of skills from traditional retail, so make sure that you don’t simply take the same staff, or even worse, same practices, from one channel to another. It’s by doing this that you can fully take advantage of the possibilities that the web presents. For instance "??click for discount"? marketing and rapid sales of slow moving and end of stock lines a clear them via the web with heavy discounts.
9. Support Online Enquiries
Organise to properly support the new channel e.g. answer emails in a timely way. Ensure that any new online offering provides a quality service. It’s now beyond a joke the number of surveys that have found that a large proportion of emails are never answered. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that failure to provide a quality service will alienate your customers, damaging your brand.
10. Integrate Your Back-office Appropriately
Integration of systems can be horrendously expensive, unless your whole operation is based on a package that already provides integration. There are fundamentally two approaches – create the new channel, make sure everything can run smoothly with a manual integration, then integrate the systems once it can be seen that the demand is there. The second approach is to integrate fully from day one. Both have perils. If initial demand is high the first approach can be catastrophic, and if someone has a??forgotten? to budget the subsequent integration, a lot of fur can fly. With the second approach, it can take so much time and funding to get a complex integration working that the company enthusiasm and budget is drained before any business is transacted.
Finally, one last thought. Multi-channel retailing is a new discipline, and everyone is still learning. This provides an opportunity to not only steal a march on the competition, but also to enjoy the experience of pioneering in a new field. Have fun!
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