Integrate Your E-commerce Solutions
Long after the Internet bubble burst, e-commerce is alive and well for direct marketers and is the fastest-growing direct commerce sales channel. Catalog companies have three options for managing the dynamic online marketing environment.
An Independent Adjunct
At one extreme, a catalog’s e-commerce operation can stand alone as a totally independent adjunct to the traditional enterprise. Although it may share some of the same merchandise, it also may feature items that are not in the catalog. When it does offer catalog items, they may be only a subset of the full catalog line.
In this extreme scenario, no effort is needed to link Web customers to the catalog’s customer database either before, during or after an order is placed. An independent Web site usually still will depend on the catalog infrastructure for order fulfillment, but credit card processing may be handled independently. Orders will be imported into the order-processing system periodically (e.g., every hour, twice a day, overnight), using the same utilities employed to import orders from a third-party call center.
Customer service can be handled exclusively online through a variety of self-service methods, ranging from a list of frequently asked questions to a dynamic knowledge base that learns (from customers) which answers are most useful to which questions. There also may be interactive chat sessions managed by dedicated call center reps, or a group that handles “call-me” inquiries from Web customers.
Other catalogs choose to tightly couple e-commerce with their catalog order-management applications. Most often in these cases, the Web interface the customer sees is created through a series of templates manipulated from a dashboard of options that can be configured without any knowledge of HTML, Java or other programming language.
Of course, just because an e-commerce platform is tightly coupled doesn’t mean it must show all the SKUs featured in the catalog. You still can add Web-only products to the database or decide to show only a subset of products online. In the tightly coupled scenario, all of these decisions and activities are managed from the same database that manages the catalog merchandise. If a new product is added, or a price is changed, it doesn’t have to be replicated on the Web. Data management is centralized and unified.