Vendor Selection: Take the Holistic Approach
In today's retail/direct/online environment, it's logical and essential to have a holistic approach to making any investment decisions. Too often people look at only one problem, tool or solution at a time. In today's market, that narrow focus puts integrated retailers at a serious competitive disadvantage.
All aspects of your business should work in concert to drive sales, especially when choosing e-commerce service providers. While searching for the right e-commerce vendor, ponder the following:
- Do vendors ask the right questions about your image and targeted customer?
- Are they willing and eager to work with your entire team to ensure the web store experience correlates with your in-store and catalog experiences?
- Do they ensure your data can seamlessly integrate with your online data and other databases?
- Are their solutions flexible and open? Can they be easily integrated with other systems and solutions?
Your e-commerce provider should be innovative and offer new ways to incorporate your online systems with your stores and catalog.
Take ratings and reviews, for example, which are associated with online. In a given case, a major solutions provider suggests that merchants put hangtags on the merchandise in their stores, showing the products' customer ratings. The vendor also recommends adding ratings and reviews to product descriptions in print catalogs and email campaigns. In addition, the vendor explains how its mobile application may be used by in-store customers to find product information and reviews prior to purchase.
That's the kind of holistic thinking you should demand from a service provider.
Vital Data Crosses Channels
Vendors should know how critical it is to access your data across all channels. Data isn't exciting or flashy — that's why it's often ignored — but as anyone in technology can tell you, garbage in, garbage out.
Good, integrated data allows you to do the following:
- determine who your customers are and how to market to them;
- assess your business, which products sell, when and at what price points;
- measure the success of promotions and loyalty programs;
- evaluate the success of search engine optimization, search engine marketing, catalog, print and other advertising;
- manage customer orders, fulfillment, customer satisfaction; and
- track inventory in your stores, online and your warehouse.
These bullet points relate to your whole business, not to just one channel. Any technology or service provider looking at your data from a strictly online perspective is doing you and your business a disservice, which will cost you.
A big challenge is integrating data from legacy systems and avoiding duplicate data entry. One option is to treat your online store as just another store in the chain. Have the same files from your point of service feed your online store; have your online sales data feed your enterprise resource planning system.
Vendors you're considering should provide the easiest ways to integrate and access your data in real time and online to give you a clear competitive advantage.
The right provider proactively thinks about how it can work across all your channels for each online solution. Here are some examples of expanding the effectiveness of online technologies.
Social networking is booming, with more retailers incorporating this technology into their web stores, and an increasing number of vendors moving into the space. Smart marketers ensure the social networking solutions they select encompass their multichannel businesses. Why should the advice and information be sourced from only online shoppers? Opinions on products — whether purchased online, from a catalog, over the phone or in a store — are all valuable and should be incorporated.
Mobile commerce is another way to drive business to all channels. It has many uses beyond selling products: allowing users to comparison shop, find nearby store locations or receive promotions. The ideal vendor presents the best ways for you to maximize mobile technology.
Store kiosks have increased sales for many retailers. This is particularly useful where customers need specific, detailed product information (say, in consumer electronics). Rather than trying to find a salesperson, and a knowledgeable one at that, customers can use kiosks to find information, including comparing similar models. Customers get what they need while still in the store; they're confident in the purchase and thus more likely to buy.
Ordering online with in-store pickup works across channels and keeps customers happy. This requires data on both the product and order to be accessible online and in-store to work effectively. Your software must have a simple interface, as users will be sales associates who probably don't have technical expertise.
Cynthia Kounaris is VP of program management and marketing at e-commerce consultancy and web knowledge base provider FitForCommerce (email@example.com).