The Path to E-Commerce Gold: A Transparent Customer Experience

Once a consumer has committed to a purchase of a particular brand and model of product, maximizing the momentum of his Web research and purchase experience is a great opportunity for a manufacturer.

However, it’s also a tremendous challenge. Best practices have found that as consumers are searching online, if 100 people arrive at a manufacturer’s Web site, 10 or 12 of them might buy directly from the manufacturer if that was offered.

The rest of the consumers who’ll move on to purchase products are either going to buy online or through the traditional retail stores. In order for the manufacturer to achieve its goal of increasing purchase conversion rates for its brand, it is necessary to create a simple, transparent consumer experience that is centered around the traffic originating on the manufacturer’s Web site leading directly, without detours, to the page deep within the retailer’s Web site.

However, it shouldn’t be just any retailer; it should be an authorized retailer who has that very product in question in stock. Manufacturers’ Web sites have become the initiation point of commerce. Fifty-eight percent of shoppers use manufacturers’ sites when researching products, Forrester Research reports, making these sites the front door for the consumer.

The consumer is consulting a manufacturer’s Web site for more than just product information; he wants guidance as to where, when and how to buy it. He walked through that first Web door with purpose and initiated commerce. The manufacturer’s Web site is used to gather information about how much something costs, where to buy it, as well as what makes that product tick.

Guide the Consumer Swiftly

It’s likely that for a big purchase like a flatscreen TV, a consumer will have seen it in person before buying. Maybe it was at a friend’s place, maybe at the airport, maybe in an advertisement. To capitalize on that advantage, the manufacturer needs to guide the consumer swiftly to the point of conclusion at an authorized retailer so the consumer doesn’t end up in a store with another brand on sale that day.

There’s a delicate situation online where a number of other spending options appear instantaneously and the marketing dollars the TV manufacturer put into the airport display or valuable word-of-mouth will be rendered less effective.

Inherent within deep-linking technology from the initiation point of commerce with the manufacturer and the conclusion at the retailer is tracking the co-op dollar. The co-marketing between the two entities is tangibly tracked with the links from one site to another, and this information can be optimized for future study of trends in online buying and what manufacturers associate well with what retailers.

It’s up to the manufacturer to draw a straight line from Point A, the product’s information, to Point B, where the product can be bought — all with the perception of a pleasant shopping experience. Consumers need to be taken from an initiation point to a conclusion point as quickly as possible before other factors distract them, or worse, boredom sets in.

The manufacturer’s brand should be extended from the research point to the point of sale. It would be terribly inefficient to let an enthusiastic customer be lost to a competitor just because the path of Web sites from one manufacturer led to too many choices or the retail store confused matters by displaying the other brands that were in stock, as opposed to the one sought after.

A Clearer Path

In order to prevent a consumer’s detour, it is important that his Web experience goes directly from a manufacturer’s product page to a place deep within the retailer’s Web site where he can actually either buy it online or know that it is available at a specific store and it will be there when he drives over.

The experience should be the equivalent of having a guide walk with a customer from the front door of the store to the shelf in the TV department, put that particular product into the cart, and walk the customer to the cash register. A clearer path and more efficient purchase process yield more sales, happier, more satisfied consumers, and a stronger brand.

Logistically, manufacturers need some relief in managing the overwhelming world of e-commerce. Consumers’ use of manufacturers’ Web sites has risen steadily over the last three to four years. It’s as if hordes of customers are showing up in the parking lot, eager to buy, but not corralled in an orderly fashion.

Retailers serve the essential purpose of transacting the sale and supporting the customer. Deep-linking technology empowers the manufacturer to retain the consumer’s enthusiasm by transparently sending him directly to the conclusion point at the authorized retailer. It allows the manufacturer to continue to focus on building and improving its products.

The onus is on the manufacturer to originate the process, and it’s up to them to make sure it’s a positive experience at every level. It can’t bog down the manufacturer’s servers and computer systems, nor can it tie up the IT department.

So, for such deep-linking technologies, the kinds that actually reach into the retail channel to facilitate easy purchasing for customers, it makes sense to outsource the tasks to those with expertise in the area. It’s much the same as handing over the printing of brochures and advertising to those who specialize in print.

Using a third party to act as a conduit between manufacturers and their retail or channel partners allows the parties to connect the dots more efficiently, smoothing out the “minor” details that become major disconnects, and making the final connections that result in a sale.

Keep It Simple

One of these is the alignment of the nomenclature manufacturers and retailers use for the same product. There are often a variety of names or model numbers used for the same product, which can be as minute as an extra space or a hyphen, or the way the two parties refer to a particular feature set may be inconsistent. These small differences can become major obstacles in the consumer’s journey to buy.

In deep-linking technology, unifying manufacturer data regarding model names and numbers with retailer data is key. Only when that is done can it be determined what retailers carry the product in question, if it is in stock at the moment, and then connect that retailer to the consumer.

In the merging of the online and offline worlds of research for a substantial purchase, a customer is very keen to subconsciously absorb the Web research and/or buying process and remember the experience as positive or not — satisfying or not.

Manufacturers are well served to keep the experience as clean and simple as possible, thereby perpetuating the consumer’s perception that he got exactly what he wanted — whether the purchase was made online or culminated in a brick-and-mortar visit and purchase.

Rob Wight is cofounder, president and CEO of Channel Intelligence, a Web-initiated commerce solutions provider.

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