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May 28, 2009

Are Multi-Channel Retailers Positioned To Win?

As consumers continue to retrench on discretionary spending – most retailers find themselves in fierce competition for stagnant spending across all channels. Traditional brick and mortar shops with a weak web presence are losing business to shoppers who’d rather surf the net for what they need. Web-only retailers are, for the first time, seeing the natural growth of ecommerce slow – and thus, they can no longer rely on automatic growth from new shoppers and a higher percentage of mix moving online. Enterprising multi-channel retailers are well positioned to win the fight for existing shoppers and existing spend – by bolstering their website content, offering unparalleled accessibility and providing new levels of customer service.

House of Fraser is a great multi-channel example that I’d like to call out. HOF is a premium UK department store group with 62 locations across the UK and Ireland. Their brick and mortar business has been around for 150-years (!) – and they did not stop at simply bringing their business online, they are continually seeking ways to connect their channels. Some of their successful initiatives include:


- Historically, they’ve only offered their catalogs in store due to their cumbersome nature. In order to make them much more broadly available, they have brought them to life as eCatalogs on the web.
- Better yet, most items purchased online can be returned at one of House of Fraser’s many department stores.
- House of Fraser gift cards can now be purchased and exercised on the website or at one of the 62 department store locations, which make them far easier for the consumer to redeem.

Thus, faced with a tough economic and competitive environment, multi-channel retailers such as HOF have some unique advantages they can leverage that would be difficult for their single-channel competition to match.

HOF is not alone is connecting channels for unique advantage. Most multi-channel retailers offer store locators and some, present in-store inventory availability. Many multi-channel retailers offer ship-to-store shopping which provides a great convenience to consumers - especially during the holidays when people flying to visit family and friends are faced with new baggage restrictions and checking fees. This also appeals to highly price sensitive shoppers who are willing to drive the ‘last mile’ to save shipping costs. Other multi-channel retailers offer in-store shoppers access to its website through Internet-enabled kiosks – giving shoppers real-time access to additional product information, customer reviews and other information to help facilitate the purchase in store—even the ability to order an item that may be out of stock in their local store. Early adopters are leveraging mobile devices for direct orders and as a direct marketing tool to drive in-store or to the web for online purchases. Examples include click- to-order and direct connection to your address book for gift deliveries, texting for in-store pick-ups and specials, pushing newest arrivals that are regionally linked to local store phone numbers for inventory availability, mobile search or UPC scanning capabilities tied to GPS navigation, and web search to find closest available items in store or best prices on the web.

If you are a multi-channel retailer and are thinking about pushing the bounds on connecting your channels, the April 2009 online shopper survey by Opinion Research Corp may be of interest to you. The survey identified five standout pain points in online shopping:
1. Not being able to speak to anyone to answer questions (25 percent)
2. Learning that items are back-ordered or out of stock after they are in the cart (11 percent)
3. Receiving an item that doesn’t look anything like it did on the Internet (11 percent)
4. Web sites that malfunction as the payment is being processed (9 percent)
5. Not being able to find an item (8 percent)

In thinking about the above challenges of buying online, you may be able to leverage an integrated cross-channel strategy to remove some of these customer pain points. In the end, "real time retailing” will be a significant advantage as retailers recognize the immediate benefit of meeting customer expectations at the time of demand, and customers recognize the retailers who provide it. Those retailers already employing this approach – making the sum of all channels greater than each individual channel – will likely weather the current economic downturn better than retailers who are retrenching to ‘focus’ on a single channel as their survival plan. The trend is showing consumers becoming savvier and demanding more information, greater accessibility to products and services and convenience like never before.

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May 13, 2009

Models in Motion

Make your site come to life by using animations to show off your merchandise. Show how the material moves, how the fabric flows, and how the fashion fits in a world beyond two dimensions. In the examples below, shoppers see models walk onto a webpage, twirl and show off their garments.

David's Bridal
David's Bridal has made it their mission to make weddings spectacular and they've started with their website. The excitement of shopping for your big day is brought to life through animations presented right on the category page. Shoppers can click to watch the models twirl their bridal gowns – offering a complete 360 degree view of the dress. David’s is creating a precedent by making wedding day planning a simple click instead of an exhausting trip.

This revolutionary designer has taken "cutting edge" to the next level by bringing her designs to life online through video. Get a glimpse at a playful model as she dons Stella’s designs beautifully and flirts with the video camera (all the while tempting us mercilessly with the fabulous apparel). "Shop by Look" can be your guilty pleasure too as you watch this season’s wondrous wares come alive on the back of a winsome beauty. Once the video portion of your entertainment has ended, you may interactively click on the model to see the front, back and zoom views on any particular piece. Add items to your cart individually or pick up the entire outfit you’ve been coveting.

This cutting edge technique can be used to sell other products. It’s all based on industry standard Flash technology, already installed on over 98% of computers worldwide.

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May 08, 2009

Plasmas to Pacifiers...Does rich media apply?

In my blog last week, I included some of the findings from our recent survey – and improved customer experiences remains a key 2009 trend. The intention to invest is broad based, with both retailers and manufacturers upping their investments in visual merchandising - across content production, tools and technology. The intensified focus on the online retail experience reflects not just the desire of multi-channel retailers to increase online market share, but also their awareness that many of their consumers use their web sites for researching offline purchases. Philips is one of the best examples I’ve seen of a global manufacturer who is successfully offering an experience that supports the selling of product through both direct and in-direct selling channels. In talking to their executives, their major investments in a best-in-class online customer experience is also heavily driven by the fact that 45% of their customers’ offline purchases are now influenced by online searches conducted prior to entering any store, thereby making Philips’ web sites in 56 countries, critical to the success of its global multi-channel strategy. Philips was also able to prove that by enriching and simplifying the online shopping experience, page views per visit across all of their web properties jumped 15 percent, customer satisfaction and brand advocacy spiked and click through rocketed to an industry-leading 7%. This team is really executing on a great vision.

So, the question is, do all online products need rich media to make them successfully saleable? Do you need a dynamic zoom view of a baby bottle?

We believe that the customer experience should ideally be intuitive and visually relevant for different product categories on an e-commerce site. Not every product requires a video or alternative view or even 360-degree spin. Clearly Philips, a manufacturer of everything from shaving equipment to electronics would also agree - as depending on the product category, the site dynamically shows different visual merchandising techniques. At the baseline, however, a single high quality image – ideally with zoom – is typically core across all product lines, which then, based on the product type, can scale up to extra views, Flash animations, product finders, videos and the like. There is obviously no “one-size-fits-all” answer (even within a given website), but I am not sure I’ve run across a site yet that would not benefit from enhanced customer experience around at least a portion of their product offerings.

If you have an interesting story, learning, or perspective to share on the relative applicability of rich media to different product categories, please comment on what you’ve experienced…

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  • ShopTalk is a blog featuring "Quick Tips", trends and more written by experts from the Adobe Scene7 team who live and breathe web, rich media and customer experience. This interactive forum offers insights and best practices on the latest trends we are seeing in the marketplace to help improve your customer experience, ultimately driving conversions and revenues.
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