e-Retail offers plenty of scope for direct marketers

Robert Kennedy put it succinctly when he said “like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

He probably had other things in mind than the subject of this article, but nevertheless ecommerce (yes, that’s the subject) is a very, very interesting time for those of us in marketing. It represents a whole new level of opportunity around engagement with customers, inevitably leading retailers down the path of both classic direct marketing principles and also sophisticated and increasingly complex retail strategies.I prefer to call it eRetail.

Out of this fusion of retail and direct marketing will come either effective eRetail businesses, or expensive flops which allow others to take advantage of stumbles. We aren’t talking about anything fundamentally new here either – ecommerce has now been around for years – but what has probably changed is that ecommerce is rapidly becoming the norm for retailers in New Zealand and many that have avoided it for years are getting on board the bus.

For many, this is driven by the impact of overseas retailers offering quality product, good or sometimes cheaper pricing, and a great online ordering experience, with effective fulfilment which makes the distance irrelevant. To compete, local retailers have to meet it, if only to deliver customers back instore at their retail outlets ready to shop, better informed, or possibly to capture online sales which harness the spur of the moment purchase desire that our increasingly online society is so comfortable making. It wasn’t that long ago people were nervous about online security – but now this seems far from most people’s worry-set.

Meanwhile, the direct marketer can rub their hands with glee. The opportunities are boundless…

Big data: If online shoppers are logged in, their eyeball activity can be tracked, not just their eventual purchases. This is so much richer data than can be gathered instore, for the foreseeable future. It allows smarter ecommerce systems processing in realtime to tailor selections to their likes and further stimulate them to buy more on their visit.

Repurchase incentives: The act of buying online represents the best upsell opportunity. We know all the classic CRM data, but because they have bought online they will be more receptive than ‘normal’ shoppers to further online stimulus to purchase more. If their credit card details are preloaded (as Amazon do) then it’s even easier, a major barrier to repurchase is removed. Effectively, get your targeting right (big data) and your repurchase offer attractive enough (a mixture of data and good retailing) and you can drive your sales.

Effective eCRM programmes: Something I’m quite passionate about is that in all the glee about an ecommerce platform, a retailer can forget that having a relationship with a customer can transform an occasional purchase activity to a regular habit. One which can also reinforce the relationship with the retail store too if that’s part of the strategy. But emails need to be viewed as much more than recognition of purchase (ie “thanks for your order”; “your order has been shipped”; etc), and instead much more about recognition of the ‘habit’ and relevant stimulus for more – delivering personalised, relevant content and increasingly with an eye on rich media and engagement.

As with other classic forms of direct marketing, this will only ever be truly effective with relevance. For all their apparent smarts, I find regular emails from Amazon trying to sell me the same stuff I have bought or variants thereof (generally specific books and music) utterly lacking in insight or recognition that I must have deleted the other 52 attempts to sell me the same stuff; I can only assume they are working on the ‘nag factor’ and that it works for them – however, it just makes me delete most of their emails without reading them. I am sure there is a better way. I refuse to believe theirs is the only way.

And that’s what makes it exciting. There are lots of ways to make ecommerce work and to assume anyone has totally cracked it would be very premature.

I’m looking forward to some more “interesting times”.

Author: Ben Goodale