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How to sell smarter – staying ahead of consumer expectations on the web and in-store (part one of two)

Online and mobile shopping has changed retailing dramatically over the past decade. Consumers have enthusiastically taken to the internet, social media and mobile technology to help in their buying decisions, and now have high expectations of what’s available, at what price, and how quickly. They’re researching, and buying, online, comparing prices and insisting on information and experience before they make their decision. Buying is no longer a simple in-store transaction, it’s a journey, and it can take many different routes.

Online is now, and it’s not just a nice-to-have.

Retailers have no choice but to keep up with consumers in the new online world – their competitors are definitely doing so, and they simply can’t afford to fall behind.

The online world has even changed who those competitors are. No longer do you simply have to worry about the similar store down the road - your competitors can deliver to New Zealand from anywhere on Earth. For example, British department stores Debenhams and Marks & Spencers compete with you for customers online.

The NZ Retail Show in Auckland at the beginning of April gave real insight into how retailers understand these changes, can get up to speed with trends in consumer buying behaviour and respond appropriately. During the two days, they could attend seminars ranging from such topics as customer relationship management to inventory management and converting e-commerce websites. 

Intergen’s two seminars looked the customer journey and web strategy, and how suppliers are using mobile devices to improve category management and restocking, or ”competing at the shelf”, as we like to say.  We deliberately covered online and offline topics because retailers need to look holistically at the customer experience – to consider the whole journey, not just the transaction.

Your customers may want to buy online, or they may want to research, compare and even order online, then make the actual purchase in store. Customers take all these routes to purchasing and we wanted to know how well retailers were set up to meet them.

The high numbers of retailers attending our web strategy seminars showed that getting to grips with online is a real priority and many are still learning how to integrate it into their business. They understand the idea of a customer journey, through different routes, to buying – and they understand what roadblocks may stop them getting there.

However, many are aware they should be doing more online, but have real issues finding the time and resources. Interestingly, this was the case for all sizes of enterprises.  

In our recent Engaged Web Study, the “Shopping & Classified” sector results showed most NZ retailers understand the importance of an effective online presence – the sector was among the top three in several measures of online engagement. But in some, such as use of social media, the sector still has a long way to go.

Build a web strategy.

So, we asked, how do you deliver what customers want and get the best investment from your online presence? And how do you keep doing it?

Like everything else in business, you have to start with a strategy – a measurable plan of attack that is specifically tailored to your needs.

Your web strategy must clearly articulate how your online presence will help you achieve, or even exceed, your organisation’s objectives. It must set your vision, your goals and your methods for achieving and measuring them. And it must show how your online presence will ensure that your customer’s journey ends with a purchase from you, not your competitor.

It must align with your wider retail strategy and with all the systems you use. It must be part of your brand.

More than anything else, the key to developing an effective web strategy is to think of your business as a brand, not simply a retail shop.

Your customers no longer relate to you simply as a bricks-and-mortar store that can provide the goods they want when they want them. They can travel multiple channels, taking various routes before they purchase. To keep them, across all those channels, you need to create loyalty, you need to provide what they want, when and how they want it, and through an experience they want to repeat.

To do this you must know how they operate online, and how they want to interact with you. For some smaller retailers, creating a website may not be their first step into the online world. The idea is to engage with your customers, to build loyalty, to give them a reason to end their journey with you, rather than all the other options they have.

Your online presence may start with third-party sites such as Trade Me or GrabOne – certainly many retailers have become very successful online through Trade Me, which is a great place to build a loyal community of customers.

Get social.

But it may also, and probably should, involve social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which just a minority of those attending our seminars are exploring.

Using social media such as a Facebook or Twitter is free; it just requires time and a willingness to engage.

Social media provides a great channel for building relationships with prospective customers, finding out their preferences, their habits, and gaining their loyalty. The key is to realise these are not old-fashioned marketing and promotional channels – if you engage in advertising or hard selling you will lose customers. Instead, social media success involves getting customers talking to you, getting them to “like” you and “retweet” you and recommend you to their friends.

It’s about creating such a good impression that, when they are in the market for something you sell, they will automatically think of you and go to your store or website in preference to others.

It does take time – one retailer told us he had just started using Facebook and was beginning to feel overwhelmed by the minutiae of the engagement required. To use social media effectively, you do need to be become comfortable with it and commit the resource of time.

This piece first ran in the New Zealand Retail Magazine (http://www.nzretailmagazine.co.nz/). Visit our blog tomorrow for part two. 

Posted by: Daniel Munns, Retail Specialist | 24 May 2011

Tags: Social Networking, Social Media, Engaged Web, Retail trends, Facebook

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