Six E-Commerce Capabilities that Set Retailers Apart

For a growing number of retailers, e-commerce is important not just as a fast-growing sales channel but as the central leveraging point for virtually all of their digital efforts. "Retailers are increasingly looking at their e-commerce platform's ability to serve as the foundation for all of their digital presence, no matter what the channel," said RSR Research managing partner Nikki Baird.

Baird, speaking last week at the sixth annual RIS News Cross-Channel Retail Executive Summit in San Antonio, TX, identified six critical e-commerce capabilities that serve to differentiate retailers in an increasingly competitive arena. Many of these capabilities have cross-channel implications, from building brick-and-mortar store traffic to enhancing the quality of a customer's experience once they are in the store.

Baird identified the six key capabilities and provided examples of several retailers doing a good job with each differentiator:

1) Social: Instead of the reductive Facebook "Like," American Apparel's website encourages visitors to get specific on sentiment about its products by offering three options: Want it; Love it; or Have it. The retailer's next challenge is to determine whether shoppers that click "Want it" will eventually buy the product, "or are broke and just dreaming about owning it," said Baird, adding that a retailer wouldn't want to invest a lot in this latter type of customer.

2) Community: "This is not just about front-end ratings and reviews, but using back-end systems to enable customers to connect with each other through the brand," said Baird. Lowe's, for example, encourages customers to provide detailed information about projects they've done on their houses, with pictures, specific steps to take and a materials list. The interface allows for comments and tags, provides information about the author, and is easily shareable, creating both "a social element and a profile," said Baird.

3) Cross-Channel: Guitar Center, which serves music enthusiasts who often seek lessons or expert advice, has store-specific websites that identify store managers and employees, listing their areas of expertise and publishing their work schedules so customers can visit the store when the person in the know will be working. These sites also serve the employees, many of whom are aspiring musicians, providing them with a platform for their musical efforts and promoting their playing gigs.

4) Multi-site: Dillard's website allows the retailer's manufacturers and brand partners to "surface" detailed information on specific products. "This lets the brand tell their story, but under the retailer's 'umbrella,'" noted Baird. Another multi-site example is Ikea, which created a Back to College microsite containing different navigation features than the parent site, a curated selection of Ikea products and an offer of a free dessert to shoppers presenting a student ID. Despite its different look and feel, Ikea engineers these microsites to lead to the same shopping cart and checkout as its regular e-commerce site.

5) Ecosystem: The multitude of plug-ins and applications that make up the ecosystem surrounding e-commerce efforts has become more heavily populated and more complex, particularly with the advent of mobility. Making use of these varied ecosystems "is great, as long as it doesn't result in fractured views" Baird warned.

6) Analytics: "One view of the customer should be the overriding objective, and it's not just about page-level and not just about conversion – you need a spectrum of analytics," Baird said. Retailers need analytics to answer more subtle questions, such as "What does 'I love this product' mean in a social sphere, and how does it translate into a demand signal, either online, in the store, or both?"