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Multichannel shoppers love e-mail. (Integrated Marketing Solutions).

Times are tough and despite Alan Greenspan's recent statement that "the economy is coming out of the recession," it's becoming clearer as time passes that business will never be done the way it was in the last decade. Way too many options are available for consumers seeking lower prices at discount and big box stores. Look at the growth of Target; Costco; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and Linens & Things. How does the specialty retailer shake off the gloom and doom that continues to be the theme being played out in most of the media and compete in this new environment?

Grabbing Shoppers' Attention

I know that retailers like to think in terms of sales "channels"--whether they sell only online or also through traditional stores and catalogs, but American consumers refuse to be corralled quite so neatly. Some like to shop exclusively online and others only in person at bricks-and-mortar stores, but these days, more of them are taking a mixed approach. Some buy online, but only after studying the direct mail catalog and punching in the product number for a quick getaway. Others browse Web sites to find what they want at the best price, then go to the specific store to pick up the merchandise.

How can you accommodate these multichannel shoppers? I suggest that the retailers who will be the most successful now and in the future are the ones who coordinate their online, in-store, and catalog efforts. The Web is having a far greater impact on in-store sales than anyone could have guessed, according to the latest consumer shopping data.'s Research

In some ways, 2001 was the year e-commerce grew up. Sales growth, although reaching $12.4 billion for the fourth quarter, showed signs of tapering off--one mark of maturity. Another indicator of maturity was the lack of griping about e-tailers dropping the ball when fulfilling orders. Most were more up front with customers about product availability and delivery deadlines. And they were more fiscally responsible--no longer are they willing to lose money on every sale to acquire customers. Many e-tailers eliminated free shipping offers, although some still offered them with purchases of $100 or more.

Retailers also discovered that wise use of the Web can help make your entire operation more efficient by lowering marketing costs, permitting more targeted advertising, and providing self-help (i.e., cheap) customer service.

E-mail is More Important Than Your Web Site

What is your e-mail strategy? In fact, do you even have one? When I ask leaders of retail operations to describe their company's e-mail strategy, their usual answer is something like, "Huh?" Many are spending enormous amounts of money and staff time on their Web sites, but they rarely have enough of an e-mail strategy to even produce a simple newsletter. I contend they are wasting their money!

I recommend that you use technology, but use it on your own terms.

The following can help you develop a genuine e-mail strategy and avoid being seduced by your own Web presence.

E-mail Considerations

1. Resources spent on e-mail strategies are more valuable than the same resources spent on Web strategies. E-mail's person-to-person communication breaks down barriers faster than anything else on the Web.

2. Just about everybody with Internet access has e-mail, and most of them read their messages. The number of Web sites people visit is far fewer than the number of e-mail messages they receive.

3. People treat e-mail messages as "To-do" items, while they often forget their Web bookmarks.

4. E-mail is a personal medium. Stop waiting for prospects to discover your Web site--they've already discovered their online mailboxes.

5. Bring prospects and customers to your retail store (bricks-and-mortar, online, or catalog) through e-mail. Your e-mail message can be an offer that is so irresistible that you close the sale right then and there. It can also be a message that contains an offer to lead them to your bricks-and-mortar or your electronic store, or both.

6. You have to create a strategy for gathering e-mail addresses in the first place. It's helpful to conduct a survey and create customer profiles with the results so you can better target your e-mail messages. A good strategy that I've used effectively is to provide Web forms that allow you to structure your communications and pull them into databases. It all starts with an accurate, up-to-date database of customers' and prospects' e-mail addresses.

7. Leverage your e-mail message. An e-mail offer combines the power of personal communication with the power of scale. You can reach so many people so cost effectively and you can do so on a scale never before possible. But again, I repeat--it all begins with your database. A good, clean, up-to-date database is essential to help you grow your business in a cost-effective way.

Build Your E-mail Lists

Perhaps the area with the most payback potential is your house list--or what should be your marketing database. The list may be enhanced with marketing information about each of the individuals on it. When you're building email lists, make sure to avoid:

* Entries that have wrong contacts

* Lists that are composed of many different, unorganized lists

* A list that cannot be segmented

* A list that is not being used often enough

Internet Marketing Strategies

1. Generate and qualify leads with the Internet.

2. Use Internet events to promote products and services.

3. Execute instant fulfillment on the Internet.

4. Generate orders through the Internet.

5. Enhance customer relationships with the Internet.

Provide Quick Responses

Be easily accessible and respond quickly to customer calls. Customers have high expectations about how quickly and adequately they should receive answers to questions and complaints sent in by e-mail or phone. Setting up an e-mail option on a Web page could backfire if you're not prepared to provide efficient customer response. Volvo's USA headquarters was one of the first to provide e-mail access on its Web site. However, it received occasional messages like this: "Nice Web site, but the sunroof on my 850 leaks." Volvo did not allocate sufficient staff to respond to such problems and decided instead to terminate its e-mail feature.

Traditional Marketing vs. Cybermarketing

1. Advertising--In traditional marketing, you prepare print or voice copy and use standard media vehicles, such as newspapers, radio, TV, and magazines. Usually, only a limited amount of information can be presented. Cybermarketing allows you to compile extensive information and put it on the company Web site and buy banner ads on other sites.

2. Customer Service--In traditional marketing, you provide service five days a week, eight hours a day in the store or over the phone in response to customer calls. Cybermarketing allows you to provide 7-day, 24-hour service response; send phone, fax, or e-mail solutions; carry on online dialogue; and repair problems from a distance through computer diagnostics.

3. Selling--Traditional marketing means phoning or visiting prospects and customers and demonstrating products physically or by projection equipment. Cybermarketing allows you to videoconference with a prospect and demonstrate a product on a computer screen.

4. Marketing Research--Traditional marketing uses individual interviews, focus groups, and mail or phone surveys. Cybermarketing allows you to use news groups for conversation, interviews, and e-mail questionnaires.

Questions for the Future

You need to set aside serious time to peer into the future and ask what adaptations you need to make now to survive and prosper. The answers to the following questions can help you compete and shape your future in the 21st century.

1. Has your company prepared a scenario of how your business will probably look in five years?

2. Where will profits be made in the value chain?

3. Has your company prepared a Web site that provides information about your products and your company? What attractions and benefits will bring viewers back to your site?

4. Has your company maximized the ease with which prospects and customers can reach you with inquiries, suggestions, or complaints? How fast is your company able to respond to these messages?

5. Is your company building a rich database of the names and profiles of prospects/customers, dealers, and suppliers?

6. Has your company set up an Intranet that enables company personnel to communicate electronically with each other and with the company's central data banks?

7. Has your company set up Extranets linking it to its major customers, distributors, and suppliers?

Always, there is room for improvement. Wal-mart, an e-commerce Johnny-come-lately that's now topping the charts, says it has concentrated its energies not on duplicating a Wal-Mart store online, but on finding ways for to complement the stores. For example, when customers drop off a roll of film to be developed at the store, they can have the photos posted on the site, then log on to create a Hallmark card with one, and frame and ship another--services not offered off-line. Starting next summer, you'll be able to buy tires at and go to the local store to have them installed.

Forrester Research's market research data shows that large groups of online users who have used the Internet mainly for e-mail and obtaining information are now less fearful of shopping on the Internet. The research on consumer behavior indicates that once users overcome their fears, they discover that shopping online is easy and fun, and experts are predicting large numbers of new shoppers will use the Internet to shop for goods and services during the next three years. The growth rate could be enormous. The fear that "I'll screw up the shopping experience" is vanishing for large numbers of Internet users.

To best accommodate these multichannel shoppers, use the tips I've suggested in this article. If you do, your chances of luring more customers into your stores will be greatly improved. Carpe Diem--seize the day.

RECOMMENDED WEB SITES Top Internet statistics site A collection of links to Internet data and information Top computer information site A collection of regularly updated statistics and articles on the Internet and e-business Top catalog and Internet direct marketing site You've got questions--the surf guru's got the answers The Wall Street Journal Interactive edition The New York Times on the Web. Check out, their electronic media section that comes out on Thursdays.

Marshall Marcovitz is president of MM Consulting, a catalog and Internet consulting company specializing in the retail industry with a focus on marketing communications for retail store, catalog, and Internet organizations. Marshall is also a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he teaches courses on marketing communications. Contact him at:
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Author:Marcovitz, Marshall
Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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