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Seven Ways To Close the Gap Between Brick and Click

By Michael Mahoney
Feb 12, 2002 5:36 PM PT

Seamless integration between online and offline channels is the Holy Grail of brick-and-click retailing. But as with any worthy quest, a map is needed to point the way toward the elusive prize.

Seven Ways To Close the Gap Between Brick and Click

With that in mind, here are seven steps to help a multichannel business click on all cylinders.

1. Analyze Customer Interactions

Find out what kind of customer data the company currently is obtaining, collecting and storing. Then determine what kind of additional information about interactions, purchases, shipping methods and customer preferences is still needed.

"A well-integrated system should be designed around the company's needs and objectives, not pulled off the shelf and forced upon it as is," the Yankee Group's Paul Ritter told the E-Commerce Times.

2. Identify Possible Behaviors

Start with ideal target customers. What actions are they likely to take in terms of a multichannel shopping experience? What specific role does each channel need to fulfill in that process?

"Trying to do everything in all channels is a losing proposition," Boston Consulting Group e-commerce manager James Vogtle told the E-Commerce Times.

"There are people saying the process needs to be totally seamless, where customers can do anything in all mediums, but that's not as viable as a selective approach."

3. Scale Your Infrastructure

According to Ritter, companies should determine whether their existing infrastructure (customer databases, e-mail systems, CRM systems, order tracking systems and so on) can be scaled and integrated if this has not already been accomplished.

"Are the online and offline organizations separate entities, either as distinct business units or even as separate corporations? If so, this creates enormous challenges that are difficult, and expensive, to overcome," Ritter warned.

4. Identify Training Needs, Costs

Companies must first think through the training of sales and call center staff. Is there more than one customer service operation, such as for online purchases and for store or catalog operations? Is separate training provided to reps from different groups?

"If so, these aspects need to be closely aligned so that consistent messages are being offered to customers and the systems for tracking such contacts are maintained in an integrated way," said Ritter.

5. Get Focused

Vogtle said it is important to focus up front on the particular transactions a company wants to support across various channels.

"If you focus on doing one to three things really well, rather than doing 10 things poorly, you're way ahead at the end of the day," he said. "Pick the spot where you'll have the most impact first -- where can you serve your loyal, highest-value customers best across the category."

Two such areas may be in-store returns and pickups. Ritter said that Yankee Group research shows online shoppers want the flexibility to return products purchased online to brick-and-mortar locations -- and that they tend to go elsewhere when that option is not available.

"Companies like Circuit City, through their partnership with Amazon, make this option possible, and they are achieving significant sales as a result of meeting those customers' needs," Ritter said.

6. Test, Test, Test

"It's going to be a fairly difficult and expensive task, so you want to make sure you get it right," Vogtle noted.

"Learn from a pilot situation at a few stores and revise and adapt it, because you're never going to get it 100 percent right off the bat," he said.

7. Measure Results Consistently

Vogtle added that it is much harder to measure the impact of an online presence on catalog and brick sales, but that such measurement is important nonetheless.

"Have a process in place for very quick and easy surveys to get an idea of what the impact is," Vogtle said. "Use small consumer surveys to try and get an idea of what volume of sales were influenced by the online channel to begin with."

In addition, Ritter recommended that companies keep close tabs on marketing to make sure their offline advertising and branding is consistent with messages conveyed online.

"Companies need to adopt a philosophy of, 'We don't care through which channel a customer buys our product as long as they buy from us,'" Ritter said.

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