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 ?
“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:
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.
Working with Salmon, Barratts Priceless have consolidated all of their customer-facing websites and eCommerce initiatives onto a single IBM WebSphere Commerce platform, to reduce maintenance costs and make it easier for the company to support their sites in the future.
Salmon redesigned and rebuilt the customer-facing websites and consolidated the eCommerce initiatives on a single platform by using SAFE™ (the Salmon Application Framework for eCommerce). SAFE™ reduced their IT costs and made it easier for their marketing and sales teams to merchandise and trade their websites.
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
SAFE™ is a series of preconfigured, reusable and customisable eCommerce components that allows a merchant to deliver a production ready eCommerce solution very quickly. SAFE™ speeds up and simplifies the delivery of an IBM WebSphere Commerce based eCommerce solution. It also lowers the risk associated with launching a new eCommerce capability or replacing an existing eCommerce application:
“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
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 SAFE™ 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.
Speaking 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 Halfordshere, here and here.
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.
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.
What year did Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web get renamed Yahoo?
When did eBay acquires PayPal?
When did Wal-Mart introduce a buy online/pick up in store program?
And when did Amazon.com post a first net profit, proving pure-plays can play?