Consistent Channel Branding

First-generation strategies give way to next-gen tools

retailers are INCREASINGLY turning to multi-channel opportunities to grow their market share while presenting a seamless shopping experience and branding across channels. While integrating and synchronizing systems, processes and operations is a complex and challenging task, retailers such as Liz Claiborne, Charming Shoppes and Vermont Teddy Bear are achieving success with a multi-channel strategy.

"While North American consumers do the bulk of their shopping in stores, they spent $75 billion online in 2004 and were expected to spend more than $100 billion in 2005," according to AMR Research report: "Transform Your Stores."

Consumers are using the Web to research, compare models and read product reviews. And technology advancements are helping retailers deliver value along with a consistent brand message to customers through multiple channels.

Streamlining Channels

To further extend a brand, companies can implement in-store kiosks connected to the retailer's Web site, enabling customers to get product information, check on order status or purchase merchandise that is not available in the store.

"To ensure a consistent brand and service level across channels, as well as provide or capture accurate and reliable information, retailers must link store-based activities with online capabilities," notes the AMR report.

Liz Claiborne, for example, is streamlining its operations to more efficiently manage its multi-brand and multi-channel enterprise, more closely align its business with customer demand and better capitalize on the growth opportunities across its brands. To achieve this, the retailer will group brands and operations according to consumer offerings and channels. Each segment will have its own key brand-specific functions, such as design, merchandising and marketing. Brands will benefit from shared functions within each grouping such as planning, sales, sourcing and consumer research.

Liz Claiborne sells clothing and accessories under several labels including Ellen Tracy, Laundry, Liz Claiborne, Crazy Horse and Dana Buchman, in department stores, more than 280 specialty stores, more than 260 outlet stores and numerous Web sites.

Charming Shoppes also is implementing a series of technology upgrades to support its multi-channel and brand growth activities. The specialty fashion retailer operating the Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherines Plus Sizes chains (both physical stores and e-commerce sites), upgraded its Teradata data warehouse to facilitate additional users, applications and workload. The system will enable the retailer, which recently acquired Crosstown Traders, including 11 catalog titles selling women's clothing, footwear and specialty gifts, to move toward a greater active data warehousing environment supporting queries from its 2,265 stores.

"The upgrade and expansion of the Teradata data warehouse technology will help drive our efforts to meet and exceed our customers' expectations whether they shop in one of our stores, through one of our catalogs or on one of our Web sites," says Denis Gingue, chief information officer of Charming Shoppes.

Updating E-commerce

E-commerce platforms that retailers have been using since the launch of their Web sites may now be under-performing. This was the case recently at Vermont Teddy Bear (VTB), the manufacturer and delivery service of hand-crafted American-made teddy bears. The retailer adequately maintained its Web site over the years, but the inflexibility of the platform was becoming a problem. So VTB began searching for a new system that would enable better control over merchandising and expansion into new markets, says Tom Funk, Web manager.

Adding new Web functions presented a particular challenge for VTB. "After successful testing in the Hispanic market, we began advertising on Spanish language radio," says Funk. "We tried to translate some products on the Web site and offered bilingual operators, but we felt we could serve our Hispanic customers better with a bilingual Web site."

It also was important that the new e-commerce system enable the company to eventually move its multiple brands, including PajamaGrams (sleepwear and bath or body products in a keepsake hat box), TastyGrams and Calyx & Corolla (a floral mail order business), onto one platform.

The retailer chose Demandware's e-commerce platform to help offer an 'arrival date calendar' that allows customers to specifically request the date they want the recipient to receive the gift. The system also includes address validation to ensure on-time deliveries and reduce the cost of missed deliveries. The site is designed to make it easier for customers to purchase the accessories that go along with the bears. Funk explains: "The more relevant the accessories we present and the more easily they can be purchased, the better the up-sell opportunity."

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