Saturday, November 22, 2008

Are you tuned to your customers’ channel?

Sometimes there are advantages to being late adopters of technology. Wait 6 months and you’ll get a new and improved model cheaper, faster and tinier/bigger/better and you’ll also have the benefit of those 6 months of research and user reviews to help you make your purchasing decision.
Applying this to the world of online retail in Australia, we are years behind the US, but we have the benefit of learning from the successes and failures of American online retail models. We also have access to a wealth of research and statistics relating to the American retail market which can help support our local business-cases and strategies for online retailing.
Unfortunately there is a dearth of research on Australian consumer habits, although we can draw on the findings of the 2007 census and ABS data to answer some questions.
Recently Deloitte decided to survey our own people across Australia to bring to light our online shopping habits. Two of the questions that we asked related to how our people research and purchase products. The tables below illustrate their preferences for using purely online versus other channels (word of mouth, print and in-store).

The survey results demonstrated a very strong preference for conducting research online, regardless of whether the purchase was made on-line or in-store. An average of 93% of respondents said they researched online across all categories. Whilst the typical Deloittian is not necessarily representative of the wider community (higher broadband access and income), there is a lesson here that can be applied to Australian retail models and that lesson is that Australians use more than one channel across the customer lifecycle. We may purchase instore but there is a high likelihood that the purchase was researched online or using a different channel to in-store. The inverse is also true, people regularly research in-store but then purchase online to get the best price or simply for the convenience. Retailers like IKEA have learnt this lesson and assist their customers across all channels with such tools as an online kitchen modelling application that allows you to print out your list of components to present in-store. They also provide an online assistant that will answer all your questions in real time using live chat.
The important thing to remember is that even if you don’t have an online shopping cart and payment gateway, you should still treat your online channel as an online store by providing:
  • Accurate and detailed product information and imagery
  • Helpful online assistance that doesn’t first require your customers to register their details
  • A consistent experience to your ‘bricks & mortar’ shop front.
If your customers aren’t actually transacting with you online, they may still be doing their research online and so encouraging online membership in return to exclusive online offers that can be redeemed in-store is just one way to keep them engaged with your brand and product offering. Providing them with in-store product availability via your website is also extremely useful to customers. Pre-ordering and booking online can also support the sales pathway without the necessity of an online shop. And increasingly, we are seeing the online channel being the source of independent consumer ratings, with online retailers like Target, Amazon and Best Buy actively encouraging their customers to provide ratings of their products on their site.
Remember, no every ‘call-to-action’ is a transaction. Your online channel can be supporting your customers across the entire customer life-cycle.

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