Integration can break online shopping barrier

Howard Pearl is president and CEO of Microforum Inc., an end-to-end e-commerce and communications solutions provider. The future of electronic retailing in Canada is one of untrammeled growth and limitless opportunity - and so say all of us. But if...

Howard Pearl is president and CEO of Microforum Inc., an end-to-end e-commerce and communications solutions provider.

The future of electronic retailing in Canada is one of untrammeled growth and limitless opportunity – and so say all of us. But if that’s true, why are so many Canadian retailers so reluctant to make the great leap into cyberspace?

We recently participated as one of four sponsor companies in the J.C. Williams Group study Retail.ca: Connecting with Canadian E-shoppers.

Conducted in four waves between January and December 1999, the study surveyed a total of 823 Canadian e-shoppers, 2,000 Canadian Internet users, and 86 Canadian retailers. An additional wave of research, based on a survey of over 8,000 Canadian e-shoppers, is soon to be released.

The results would seem to confirm that there is, indeed, a significant inconsistency between consumers’ very positive predisposition toward e-shopping and retailers’ reticence to meet this burgeoning demand.

The study suggests that while consumers see tremendous benefits to be had by online shopping – convenience and price, among them – retailers are held back by fears about security, customer satisfaction and going up against online Goliaths such as Dell or Sears or Chapters.

Not surprisingly, it’s among the ranks of small- to medium-sized Canadian retailers that the study finds the greatest trepidation about expansion into the digital environment.

Make no mistake – these are well-founded concerns for any retailer that is serious about protecting the customer relationships it has so carefully nurtured in its bricks-and-mortar incarnation. The digital retail revolution is creating new and unfamiliar consumer expectations in the areas of customer service and competitiveness. Breaking down the barriers for consumers and retailers alike will require a delicate balance of state-of-the-art technological solutions and old-fashioned marketing wisdom.

In fact, many of the strategic and executional skills traditional retailers have developed will apply to their online storefronts – after all, the customer hasn’t changed, only the distribution channel has. While adding the Internet channel to an existing business gives retailers an unprecedented window on a whole new world of domestic and international customers, they can be sure that the online shopping experience will be every bit as important to customer preference as its bricks-and-mortar equivalent.

At Microforum, our experience in designing and developing Web-based solutions has convinced us that the key to successfully translating conventional business to the digital environment lies in the true integration of strategy, technology and creativity. Only then can the retailer hope to achieve the twin goals of maintaining the essence of its bricks-and-mortar brand, while adapting to the technological imperatives of selling in cyberspace.

The digital business environment is unfamiliar to most and challenging for all. But integrating sound merchandising and marketing strategy with excellent retail execution will remain the key to online success.

Sidebar: The 10 Golden Rules of E-Retailing

1. Simplicity Rules. Create a graphical interface that showcases your products and relevant information. You wouldn’t clutter up your store with irrelevant groovy graphics, so why would you do it on your Web site? Keep things focused.

2. Speed Rules. Your site must load quickly – not everyone has a T-3 line. You have just a few seconds to secure a prospective shopper’s interest. Avoid the potential for ‘load rage’ caused by time wasters like superfluous animation.

3. Security Rules. Reinforce customer confidence with respect to credit card security. Get a third-party certification of your site. Display security assurances such as the ‘Safe Merchant’ logo.

4. Merchandising Rules. Just as you do in your bricks-and-mortar store, make it easy for customers to find what they want. Filter choices up front, using brief customer profiles in order to direct shoppers to the areas of your Web site that best meet their needs. Always let shoppers know precisely where they are with a ‘You are Here’ button.

5. Customization Rules. Simple three- or four-question surveys can help you to personalize the online shopping experience. ‘Members Only’ services can be used to gain further insights into the shopper and build long-term, one-on-one relationships.

6. Community Rules. Put the shopper in touch with other customers via user ratings and shopper reviews from previous customers. Not only is it reassuring to feel part of a community, it adds credibility to the promise of a satisfactory shopping experience.

7. Service Rules. Provide cyber-shoppers the opportunity to come back to earth with a toll-free phone number or a direct ‘chat line’ to customer service. Make it available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if possible; e-shoppers are no respecters of regular business hours.

8. Flexibility Rules. Many Canadian e-commerce retailers receive the bulk of their online orders from the U.S. and overseas. Where possible, offer your customers currency options or local currency billing.

9. First Impressions Rule. Research shows that first-time shoppers will likely be timid spenders. Make their first online purchase easy and convenient with first-time offers like flat-rate shipping.

10. Marketing Rules. Your online store is an extension of your brand, not a new brand. Getting people to your Web site is no different than getting them into your store. Traditional advertising is just as effective at attracting e-shoppers as it is mall shoppers. Broad reach and brand image are as critical to your Web site’s success as they are to your store’s. Online advertising is a useful tool but think of it in the same way you would an in-mall promotion. Alliances and links with complementary sites and e-tailers can generate customer referrals. Strategic co-marketing alliances can help to fast track your customer base. HP

Also in this special report:

- It’s a whole new ball game: As consumers become more comfortable doing business online, marketers must come to grips with the new challenges that are now facing them p.D17

- Without infrastructure, you’re courting disaster

- Future’s bright for online newspapers p.D22

- Solutions offer Web marketers customer data boost p.D25

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group