Channel Integration: Make it Seamless
Channel integration is a hot topic these days—and for good reason. Effective marketers successfully are leveraging their retail, catalog and Internet efforts against one another. They’re learning that their best customers are those who interact with them in multiple channels.
Examples of multichannel integration include e-mailing to customers coupons that can be redeemed in your retail store, notifying customers via e-mail of an upcoming sale catalog going out to them, and enticing print catalog shoppers to visit and order from your Web site. This list is limited only by your imagination. (I do, however, hope to see an end to Web-only, store-only, and catalog-only offers and products.)
Here’s why it’s best to convince customers to interact with you more often and how to accomplish it.
Why Integrate Channels?
• It makes good customers great customers. Statistics show that cross-channel buyers almost always will be a cataloger’s best buyers. So make it easy and seamless for them to reach you. Find ways to encourage multichannel interactions.
• It maximizes the profit from each transaction. Some channels produce better average order values (AOV), some lower costs and some improve service. These benefits vary depending on the catalog and its product offerings. That said, pushing your customers into a lower-cost channel that ultimately delivers a lower AOV or poor customer service may net you less profit—even if it’s cheaper to process the orders.
• It offers customer convenience. If you put customers in control and let them choose the channels that are right for them, you’ll develop stronger relationships with them and get more of their shopping dollars. The No. 1 reason customers shop by a catalog is convenience. But for some customers buying certain types of products, it may be easier for them to shop in a store. If you tell customers, “I’m sorry; that’s a catalog-only product,” they may hear: “I want to make it hard for you to buy from me.”
• It gets new customers. You want new customers to find you. Seamless integration of all of your channels gives you a better chance to snag new customers and thus make your brand or company as visible to them as possible. Tell prospects all the ways in which they can contact you. This will enhance your chance of making a sale. If they stumble upon you through a Web search, be sure your home page has your store locations and/or an easy way for Web surfers to request a print catalog.
• Customers are demanding it. Customers expect all merchants today to have a Web site. They expect easy product-returns procedures. They expect to be able to use a phone to order the thing they saw in a store last week but couldn’t decide then if they wanted it. And they’re communicating these expectations to you via e-mail and through your call center reps. Most importantly, they’re communicating their purchase behaviors to you.
How to Integrate Your Channels
• Develop an organizational structure. Have all of your channel groups report to the same person.
If this doesn’t work in your company, develop a cross-channel team responsible for ensuring consistency in, for example, policy, pricing, branding and signage. This team will be crucial to effective integration.
• Send a consistent brand message. Getting your brand to resonate with customers so they become advocates of your product and your company should be your ultimate goal. Ensure that your brand attributes such as colors, graphics, type styles and words, are consistent among your channels. In this way, customers will feel comfortable with you, whether they’re shopping your catalog or your Web site.
• Enable channel shifting. Let your customers move seamlessly between channels. If they ordered via the Web and then realized they forgot something, they should be able to call your order line and add other items easily. If you carry a product on your Web site that’s not available in the stores, offer to order it for them and not charge them for shipping and handling.
These are basic customer service guidelines—forget about calling it customer relationship management (CRM). The cataloger Bachrach is very good at this. I buy from all of its channels, because it’s so easy to mix and match them.
• Aggregate transactional information. Aggregate as much of customers’ transactional information as possible in every channel they use to interact with you. This is a fundamental element of CRM and the one that’s implemented poorly in many industries. You’d hate to stop mailing some of your best customers just because they haven’t purchased from your catalog in a while, but they’ve been buying like mad in your store and on your Web site, and you didn’t know about it. It’s probably the catalog that consistently reminds them about you.
Make channel integration more than just a buzzword for your business. Think about it as good customer service.
Phil Minix is the managing director of catalogs for Reiman Publications. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.