Delivering world-class commerce experiences

As consumers, we are empowered, demanding, and increasingly digitally savvy. We expect to research and purchase our goods anywhere, anytime and via any channel or device. We expect to be able to choose when and where we receive purchases—whether it’s on our doorsteps or over the counter at the brick-and-mortar version of the store from which we purchased them. Finally, we expect to be continually recognized and valued for our business.

Brands know that keeping up with those consumer expectations is increasingly challenging. Behind every customer’s commerce experience lies a plethora of processes, systems, services, and data that need designing, integrating, testing, and supporting.

This is the everyday reality facing CMOs and CIOs who are grappling with how to deliver world-class commerce experiences. The winners will be those who:

1.    Adjust to changing consumer behavior

The way customers behave is evolving rapidly, partly due to a mix of progressive disruption, rates of new-technology adoption, advances in science, and new sources of competition. Consumer research is still an effective way to lend an ear to their immediate needs, but it’s not enough on its own. Consumers can’t predict what they’re going to want next month or next year. Capturing data is key to tracking trends, but acting quickly on those trends is even more important.

2.    Get to market quickly

Unless you’re a start-up business, you’ll have a wealth of “heritage” processes, data, and systems. In order to deliver a seamless commerce experience, all of these things will need to be connected to various critical web components. This can be time-consuming, risky, and complex. Aim to develop and implement in small steps rather than taking a big-bang approach. Successful brands, instead, tend to chip away, using pilot programs for smaller initiatives to gain feedback quickly. And where long projects are unavoidable, businesses enmeshed in Continuous Commerce™ continue to deliver incremental change in parallel. It’s as much about thinking tactically as it is strategically these days.

3.    Differentiate

In a crowded and competitive market, connecting digital technologies with physical stores and real people is key to successful differentiation. In the UK, Argos was the first to connect website and store inventory by launching a “Click & Collect” service in 2000. This has since been widely imitated globally, but at the time this wasn’t an obvious move because the industry was obsessed with dotcom businesses and home delivery. Figure out what’s unique about your business, and how digital and physical can be combined differently, and how to optimize assets you already own, and make them work hard for you.

4.    Deliver round the clock

Lots of the systems and processes underpinning an “always-on” commerce experience aren’t actually always on in the sense that they don’t operate 24/7/365. This won’t do. Brands need to face up to changing working practices and business processes, finding suppliers and services that can support uninterrupted service and creating workarounds for any IT system restrictions.

5.    Get global, and personal

We are fast becoming global consumers. We travel frequently for work and pleasure. We live in different countries from friends and family. We bring back new products and tastes and want to continue relationships with overseas brands, and yet we still like to be treated as individuals, acknowledged and rewarded for our business. Winning brands will use data and technology to deliver functionally rich, immersive and personalized experiences that are relevant to our needs, and that support our globetrotting exploits and continue to earn our loyalty.

6.    Choose the right service provider and technologies

The cost of services for an eCommerce program is many times the cost of the technology, so it’s critical that brands choose the right partners to help in their quest for success. Top brands choose partners that can help shape commerce strategy, define road maps, choose technologies, deliver commerce programs, and manage ongoing support. A partner can also coordinate the many third parties involved in a Continuous Commerce™ program.

Technology can do amazing things, but it’s what you do with it that counts. How brands bring together technology, people, geography, customer service, and user experience today will dictate tomorrow’s commerce winners—and ensure the bar remains high for the competition.

[This article was originally published as part of commerce@Ogilvy's Continuous Commerce™ series here.]

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How to attract the opposite – six in eCommerce

It’s often said that opposites attract.  As far as personal relationships are concerned, I haven’t found this to be the case.  However, for people working in the eCommerce and multi channel world, the ability to attract or bring together opposites is becoming increasingly important.

Here are six sets of opposites that come to mind:

  • Developing strategic IT architectures and embracing rapidly emerging technologies.
  • Listening to what the customer wants now while anticipating their future needs.
  • Balancing cost versus capability in solution design.
  • Delivering personalised customer experiences and super-fast web site performance.
  • Managing divergent goals of stakeholders from marketing, stores, supply chain, IT and finance.
  • Building sound return on investment cases in the context of rapidly changing business models and technology.

(I’m sure there are many more than six, so would welcome your thoughts on others.)

So why is the ability to attract opposites important ?

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A tale of two cities – the state of customer service today

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

The memorable opening of Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities came to mind today as I reflected on the wide variation in customer service we all experience day-to-day.  First a couple of contrasting examples:

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Honesty in service delivery

Prompted by reading Seth Godin’s post on the paradox of promises in the age of word of mouth recently, I have been thinking about the issue of honesty in the selling and delivery of services.

We do an awful lot of eCommerce platform replacement projects.  During the initial pre-sales conversations most of our prospective clients have fixed expectations on go-live dates.  Some of these are overly-optimistic.  We are faced with the dilemma of either telling them the truth (with the risk of losing the work) or saying that the project can be done and finding a way to extend the deadline afterwards.

From the projects we’ve rescued and the stories we have heard, honesty is always best.  Yes, we may lose some work (which is always painful) but I believe that the alternative is worse.  Starting out with dishonesty (in this case an unachievable deadline) only causes a very costly, painful implementation and lack of trust between supplier and customer.

And let’s face it.  These projects are always challenging enough anyway.  They are complex, involve many stakeholders (internal and external), and affect many business process and IT systems.  Customer and supplier are going to be working closely together for extended periods, often under pressure.  The overall chances of success are much, much higher if we are honest with each other right from the start.

As an aside, and on the specific point of timescales, some suppliers may reply that they started out thinking that the overly short time scale was achievable – only to discover after they’ve won the project that it’s not.  My view on this is that these kind of responses should be a warning flag to prospective customers because it demonstrates naivety.  An experienced supplier knows what is likely to go wrong or take longer than envisaged and so only makes promises that they know they can deliver against.  That same experience is what will help ensure the overall success both of any initial projects and the ongoing relationship.

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Multiple storefronts. Single infrastructure. VIDEO

Click to watch the Barratts Priceless Video Case Study

Salmon has been working with Barratts Priceless since 2008, implementing the underlying I.T. infrastructure and eCommerce
solution to support their commerce and Multi Channel strategies.

Barratts Priceless have 200 stores on the high street and have a growing eCommerce proposition. They have two main websites in www.barratts.co.uk and www.pricelesshoes.co.uk, as well as 5 other niche websites:

www.discountshoestore.co.uk
www.petitefeet.co.uk
www.bigshoeboutique.co.uk
www.minibarratts.co.uk
www.loveyourshoes.co.uk

Working with Salmon, Barratts Priceless have consolidated all of their customer-facing websites and eCommerce initiatives onto a single instance of IBM WebSphere Commerce, reducing maintenance costs and making it easier for the company to support their sites in the future.

Salmon redesigned and rebuilt the customer-facing websites making it easier for their marketing and sales teams to merchandise and trade.

So far the benefits have been huge;
  • 250% growth year on year
  • 3 to 4 percent of sales through “Shoefinder”
  • 10% of sales as a result of the Reserve and Collect
  • Sophisticated functionality for marketing campaigns
  • Better merchandising, content and order management
  • Common business processes, which are re-used across the business and at each point of interaction (store, contact centre, web, etc)
  • Market leading eCommerce platform supporting multiple brands and websites
  • Ability to invest in customisations that will differentiate the business

“From day one the relationship between Salmon and Barratts to deliver our MC strategy has been immense. Through the six month period of development, through every single project that we’ve progressed including Reserve & Collect, Bazaarvoice product reviews, from the technical expertise, to project management, through to expert analysts their development and expertise has been paramount.”
Ken Platt, Head of eCommerce and Customer Services

Since we launched the new eCommerce infrastructure and websites, we’ve helped Barratts Priceless trade the websites and grow their revenues online. In fact Barratts.co.uk have been shortlisted as finalists for the Drapers Footwear Etailer of the Year Award 2010.

We’ve also helped them introduce new channels to their customers for instance their iPhone strategy and mobile strategy generally.

Here are links to more eCommerce customer stories:

Press Release: Hawkshead, Craghoppers and Dare2b brands gain online advantage

Press Release: Kiddicare aims to triple online sales with new eCommerce platform

Press Release: Scotts & Co. seeks new markets and growth opportunities with  new eCommerce Platform

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Retailer Regatta meets the challenges of international eCommerce

Today we announced the implementation of a new US website for Regatta Group’s brand Craghoppers, and new sites (in the UK and US) for the clothing brand range named after adventurer Bear Grylls.

This announcement follows the successful launch in 2008 of websites for three of Regatta’s brands in the UK (Craghoppers, Dare2b and Hawkshead).  IBM WebSphere Commerce was selected by Regatta as they wanted a strategic platform which would support the whole group, as well as their international expansion plans.

Craghoppers eCommerce Homepage

Bear Grylls eCommerce Homepage

Chris Bulmer, Group IT Director at Regatta said, “The UK websites have been a contributing factor to our success during 2008 and 2009, we are seeing significant cost savings as a result of the new platform, as well as an increase in sales, and we were keen to replicate this in the US. We have been very impressed with how quickly and easily Salmon were able to bring our additional brands online. We are confident we made the right decision selecting Salmon’s eCommerce solution and the IBM WebSphere Commerce platform. To date, it has met all our eCommerce needs and we are certain it will continue to do so as our requirements develop in line with our customers’ demands.

The new sites developed by Salmon leverage IBM WebSphere Commerce and its extended sites functionality, which allows customers to launch new sites quickly and easily. Considerable amounts of development time and spend are saved because all the sites sit on one instance of IBM WebSphere Commerce and the majority of the data and business logic is shared. Regatta are also benefiting from having Salmon integrate IBM Sales Center for WebSphere Commerce. Regatta’s call centre representatives now have access to the same database as that used on the websites. Everything is shared between the two channels including product imagery, pricing and promotions as well as cross and up selling of information, leading to improved productivity of call centre employees, increased sales and improved service for cross-channel customers. Further benefits include considerable reduced IT cost and complexity.

eCommerce Internationalisation has many challenges. Read on to see how Regatta made sure that their technical infrastructure would scale to meet the new demands from the additional sites in the US and that the speed and functionality wasn’t put at risk.

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Beautiful Basics

The keynote presentation by Ashley Friedlein at Endeca’s E-Business Forum in April highlights the results of two Salmon projects.  The presentation (available for £150.00 for non e-consultancy members) aims to highlight “what you need to be doing really well online to succeed.”

Kiddicare’s implementation of Power Reviews is again mentioned (I highlighted this in a recent post) as Ashley highlights the very ‘personal’ tags attributed to products.

And also Argos’s ‘Check and Reserve‘ and ‘Text and Take Home’ services are showcased, the former a project that Salmon is so very proud of  managing, delivering and supporting for HRG.

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Helping Halfords develop its multi-channel offer (and grow revenue)

At a time when stories of doom, gloom and fudged expenses continue to provide the basis for newspaper and web editorial, it was great to see The Retail Bulletin cover the news that Halfords is continuing to employ a disciplined focus on its growth drivers – with excellent results.

Halfords ImageSpeaking at the Marketing Society Retail Forum in London, David Wild, the chief executive of Halfords stated; “Reserve & Collect has helped increase non-store sales by two-and-a-half times since the website was re-launched.

A key part of Halfords’ multi-channel strategy is the forthcoming launch of ‘Order & Collect’ that will enable Halfords to extend its assortment by allowing the ordering of products that are only available online and which can then be collected in-store. This provides the capability for the company to massively expand its range beyond even that available in its largest superstores.  Since non-store turnover is still only five per cent of total group sales Wild suggests more growth is on the cards: “We’ve now got a clear and coherent strategy… and there will be growth online, and in store.”

You can read more about Salmon’s work with Halfords here, here and here.

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Argos internet sales pass £1bn

Home Retail Group, the owner of Argos and Homebase (both Salmon eCommerce clients), has reported its annual results for the year to end February 2009.

Many are talking about triple digit growth rates in revenue, which is impressive, but HRG’s numbers illustrate just how far many organisations have to go to genuinely develop their internet offerings into viable or strategic business operations.

Argos Homepage

Given the group’s strong presence online, details of the company’s internet operations were given prominence in the report.  At Argos:

  • The internet accounted for £1.1 billion of Argos sales, up 22% from £900m a year ago.
  • The internet is now responsible for 26% of Argos sales, up from 21% in 2008.
  • Of this, £700m (17%) of Argos sales were Check & Reserve, up from £500m last year.
  • Multi-channel sales — internet or phone orders, or store orders for home delivery — totalled £1.7 billion or 40% of all of Argos sales.
  • A series of improvements have been made to Argos‘ Check & Reserve service. Customers can now see real-time stock availability of any product in their two nearest stores and can check availability in a further eight alternative stores; a text message is sent to confirm the reservation number when an online reservation is made and a reminder text is sent at midday on the day the reservation expires.

Homebase’s online offer is less developed than that of Argos but work is on-going to make improvements:

  • 5,000 Homebase products can now be bought online.
  • Another 11,000 Homebase lines can be viewed online, with the aim of all products ultimately being either viewable or buyable.
  • A Stock Check service for browseable lines has been rolled out to all UK stores. Check & Reserve is on trial in 25 stores.
  • A further 9,000 Argos products are also now available for home delivery via the Homebase website and there is a “continued transfer of skills” between Argos and Homebase.

We are always careful about promoting the work we do for Argos, but there is a little further information here and here.  But it is clear to see that it is a very successful partnership.

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ASOS on the stairway to brand heaven

Yesterday ASOS beta launched ASOS Life .

asos1

In a move that reminds me very much of the Zappos model for online retailing + social media, ASOS have created an online destination and platform to ‘visibly’ host blog, forum, comment, tag, photo and story baased content.

On the ‘invisible’ side of course they are building relationships, assessing customer behaviour and building their community.

In terms of their brand I can only think this will lead to positive brand interaction, consistency, credibility, authenticity, trust and loyalty.  A very nice move.

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