The authors offer suggestions to overcome common challenges and help optimize your online operations "VbCrLf while driving drive growth and profits.
By Bernard F. Brennan and Edward P. Foy Jr.
As retailers, we are constantly seeking ways to gain market share and improve performance through gains in same-store sales, gross margin, and inventory turnover "VbCrLf all while controlling operating expenses. Savvy retailers realize that these same improvements are also essential to success in e-commerce. Unfortunately, traditional approaches to e-commerce "VbCrLf such as ASPs, software solutions and on-demand software "VbCrLf tend to erode already-thin margins. Following are steps to help optimize your online operations, driving growth and profits.
Because the e-commerce market has become increasingly competitive, we need to respond to customer demand by delivering the right merchandise and a positive shopping experience. Constantly refreshing merchandise will impact the customer experience, encouraging repeat visits, higher conversion rates and customer loyalty. It will also strengthen your brand position.
The key to effective merchandising is attentive detail to everything from merchandise assortment planning through in-season management, including monitoring sales, forecasting and refreshing product offers. Whether your IT department is in-house or outsourced, it is imperative to update the online window display continuously to stay on top of consumer demands and market trends.
Having the online presence doesn't alleviate the need to market the online presence. It is essential to develop a marketing platform backed by perpetual performance-measuring tools and reports. Marketing strategies must be honed across a number of channels, including key word and organic search, affiliate, email and community-focused activities while you are also working closely with clients to ensure brand synergy and high-quality brand positioning.
Customization and flexibility
Staying ahead in the world of e-commerce to optimize online revenues requires flexibility to respond quickly to customer demands and product trends. Therefore, it is essential to customize online stores to keep pace; many traditional e-commerce solutions actually limit flexibility, making it difficult to incorporate the features you need to merchandise effectively.
While customization is often time-consuming and expensive "VbCrLf and by the time redesigns are complete, there is already a new and better way to execute "VbCrLf it has been proven that unique flexibility and customization capabilities can be largely responsible for nearly 99 percent client retention rate.
A solution to the time and expense of customization is to build the platform using open source technologies, which allows for continual evolution to enhance the brand and the shopper experience every day. Whatever is deployed, it must be able to customize your online store design, navigation, trend pages, microsites, shopping cart functionality and all customer touch points "VbCrLf from the time you launch through all of your online store iterations.
Superior customer service will set you apart from the competition. Since it only takes one poor experience for a customer to walk away for good, make sure you offer multiple channels for customers to be satisfied.
Be prepared and always staff up so that you can respond swiftly to phone inquiries, email and live chat about the products. Make sure call center reps are trained to walk customers through everything from navigating the online store to placing an online order "VbCrLf whatever it takes to encourage purchases and customer loyalty. Develop training and incentive programs for the full scope of customer service care to include covering returns management, payment processing and logistics.
Gathering and using data
Having real-time and accurate insight into how well promotions and sales are doing is essential to set and change direction. Learn (or find experts) who know how to gather, sort and analyze data. This sets the stage for taking immediate, meaningful action.
Aggregating this information is critical to both online and offline retailing growth, yet it can be so overwhelming that it is often ignored. Invest in a program to generate reports to align with the retail 4-5-4 accounting calendar or the Roman calendar, as well as with your planning and forecasting systems. It is imperative to quickly assess weekly and monthly sales to demonstrate performance against plan. Also essential to success is the ability to analyze the effectiveness of promotions. This data will help determine re-orders, price adjustments and optimal stock levels for the future.
As the holidays approach, the impact of e-commerce sales will determine how all aspects of a brand move forward in the next year. Utilize the best merchandising and marketing techniques to attract shoppers and convert them to buyers. Identify areas requiring customization and be flexible in how your operations can evolve based on sales and customer feedback.
Most importantly, treat your customer service center as an extension of your brand and respond to customers swiftly and satisfactorily. Consider the online stores a university for collecting and interpreting data to learn buying habits, customer comments, return patterns and marketing response. Keep up, pay attention and execute today and the next 365.
Bernard F. Brennan and Edward P. Foy Jr. are Chairman and CEO, respectively, of eFashionSolutions (www.efashionsolutions.com), an e-commerce service provider that designs and manages profitable flagship web-stores for luxury, lifestyle and celebrity-brand apparel including DKNY, Oscar de la Renta, Judith Leiber, Baby Phat, Rocawear, Dereon by Beyonce and many more. Please send your comments to the executives at [email protected].