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

Corner Officer Shifts: Martin Fecko leaves Tangerine

Plus, PointsBet Canada and Thinkific name new marketing leaders as Lole gets a new ecommerce VP.
Corner Office

Martin Fecko departs Tangerine 

After roughly two years of serving as Tangerine’s chief marketing officer, Martin Fecko has a new gig. And this time, the financial services vet will apply his marketing leadership to a new sector, having been named CMO of Dentalcorp.

Fecko will lead the dental network’s end-to-end patient journey, support its overall growth, and work to maximize patient experiences across every touchpoint, the company said in a release.

“Martin’s in-depth expertise in engaging and retaining customers through a digitally enabled experience will be valuable in realizing our vision to be Canada’s most trusted healthcare network,” said Dentalcorp president Guy Amini.

Prior to joining Scotiabank’s digital-only banking brand in late-2019, Fecko was country manager for Intuit Canada and spent 10 years at American Express in consumer and digital marketing.

PointsBet Canada nabs former Bell marketer as it pursues expansion

Dave Rivers has joined PointsBet, an online gaming and sports betting operator, as Canadian VP of marketing.

Rivers joins from Bell, where he was most recently director of brand marketing and sponsorship, responsible for driving the company’s national sponsorship strategy and portfolio. He will report to PointsBet Canada chief commercial officer Nic Sulsky.

According to Sulsky, Rivers will “play a key role as we prepare to launch a business that is unique to our roots here in Canada.”

PointsBet has a significant presence in Australia, where it was founded, and in the U.S. In July, it named Scott Vanderwel, a former SVP at Rogers, as CEO of its Canadian subsidiary, one of several hires aimed at establishing the company’s presence locally.

Thinkific names first CMO among other executive appointments

Vancouver’s Thinkific, a platform for creating, marketing and selling online courses, has appointed Henk Campher as its first chief marketing officer as it invests in marketing to support its growth plans. It has also upped Chris McGuire to the role of chief technology officer and moved former CTO and co-founder Matt Payne into the new role of SVP of innovation.

Co-founder and CEO Greg Smith said Campher and McGuire “will play key roles building high-functioning teams around them and optimizing investment as we continue to carve out an increasingly prominent and differentiated position in the global market.”

Campher joins from Hootsuite, where he was VP of corporate marketing. Before that, he was VP of brand and communications at CRM giant Salesforce.

Lolë names new VP of digital omni-commerce as parent company exits bankruptcy protection

The Montreal-based athletic apparel and accessories retailer has appointed Rob French as VP of digital omni-commerce.

French will lead Lolë’s efforts in consumer insights, supply chain-to-consumer models and online customer journeys. In what is a new role for the company, he will also work to grow the company’s retail brand. He arrives with sixteen years experience in ecommerce, having spent the last few years as chief digital commerce officer at sporting goods retailer Decathlon.

In May 2020, Lolë parent Coalision Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection, citing several years of losses as a result of a downturn in the retail clothing market, increased competition and excess inventory – problems exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the filing, Coalision was seeking an investor or purchaser of its assets.

It successfully exited bankruptcy protection last year and is currently rebuilding its executive team, according to a spokesperson.