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 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

Google launches a campaign about news connections

The search engine is using archival footage to convey what Canadians are interested in.

Google Canada and agency Church + State have produced a new spot informed by research from the search giant that suggests it is a primary connector for Canadians to the news that matters to them – a direct shot across the bow of the legislators presently considering Bill C-18.

In a spot titled “Connecting you to all that’s news,” the search giant harnesses archival footage reflective of many of the issues Canadians care about deeply, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, truth and reconciliation and the war in Ukraine, to demonstrate the point that many Canadians turn to Google as a gateway to the information and news they’re seeking.

“From St. John’s to Victoria and everywhere in between, when Canadians want to understand or get updated on the most pressing topics, Google connects them to the news sources that provide it,” says Laura Pearce, head of marketing for Google Canada. “All of us at Google are proud to be that consistent and reliable connection for Canadians to the news they’re searching for.”

In some ways, the goal of the campaign was to tap into the varied emotional responses that single news stories can have with different audiences across the country.

“News may be factual, but how people respond to it can be very emotional,” explains Ron Tite, founder and CCO at Church + State. “Importantly, those emotions aren’t universal. One news story can create completely different reactions from different people in different places. Because of that, we simply wanted to let connecting to news be the focus of this campaign. We worked diligently to license a wide variety of actual news footage that we felt would resonate with Canadians.”

The campaign can be seen as a statement by the search provider on Bill C-18 – the Online News Act – that is currently being deliberated by a parliamentary committee. That legislation seeks to force online platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay news publishers for their content, echoing a similar law passed in Australia in 2021. The Act has drawn sharp rebukes from both companies, with Facebook threatening to ban news sharing on its platform.

Google Canada is not commenting on whether this new campaign is a response to C-18, but it has been public in its criticism of the legislation. In testimony delivered to parliament and shared on its blog, Colin McKay, the company’s head of public policy and government relations, said, “This is a history-making opportunity for Canada to craft world-class legislation that is clear and principled on who it benefits.” However, he noted that C-18 is “not that legislation.”

The campaign launched on Oct. 24 and is running through December across cinema, OLV, OOH, podcast, digital and social. Airfoil handled the broadcast production.