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Making the Brand/Consumer Connection (and sale) Online

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: July 6, 2009, from the July 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 6 of 9

Lawrence Mortenson: Brick-and-mortar retailers such as Beauty Collection work something like this: Customer comes in, asks questions, receives some product/ solution education and makes a purchase. Following the purchase, the retailer follows up with the consumer with a thank you note, possibly a telephone call and some kind of ongoing marketing campaign that may include online and off-line elements. In online retail, customers first want to find information about the brand and product not only on the retailer’s Web site, but on blogs, Twitter and other sources of information. Once they buy, the basic marketing mechanics should be the same. The online retailer should be following up with customers regularly through some kind of e-mail newsletter at a minimum. Regardless of how customers buy, brands and retailers still need to go through a process of constant outreach and communication with customers—it’s just that the media mix is a bit different. Same principles, different media.

Laura Kenney: Reaching out to customers can become less formal, as the Internet is generally a more laid back space than other forms of advertising. Brands can reach their audience where they go to “play” through smart blog, video and social networking outreach. They can also maintain direct contact with their clients, and prove to them that their voices are being heard. A great example of this is the “My Starbucks Ideas” Web site, where clients can submit ideas and Starbucks reports back with specific examples on how they’re using these ideas.

GCI: What is the most effective approach to transitioning from a bricks-and-mortar store to an online presence? What are the challenges?

Kathleen McNeill: The biggest obstacles in selling online versus a bricks-and-mortar environment are the abilities to touch, smell and feel the product. We virtually replicate a counter experience with our robust sampling center and site-wide gift programs. Education is also key. Educational content, live chat, and interactive skin care and hair care consultations are key to assisted selling online.

Shawn Tavakoli: The best approach to transition online is to first give great consideration to the goals of your online presence. Are they to support your off-line store by providing an online marketing tool? Are the goals aimed at transitioning from selling products off-line to selling them exclusively online? Or is your goal to build your brand on a national level without having to have stores throughout the country? Based on your goals, you need to identify the resources required to achieve them. And depending on your goals, different challenges will present themselves. For Beauty Collection, one of the biggest challenges early on was identifying the right technology solution for our needs and the talent required to manage the various resources required to achieving our goals. It is very easy to use the wrong solution for your needs. I learned that one the hard way. Other challenges include inventory management and continuous marketing of your online store.