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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 8 of 9

Shawn Tavakoli: First, you have to realize that now you are competing on a national level. At the store level, your customer service is much more personal. Online and on a national level you need to have clear policies for everything from shipping and return policies to credit card protection. You need to have a customer service call center to field calls on product issues or shipping and handling concerns. The biggest practical issues we’ve run into are inventory management and customer service. Simple things like switching customers to a different product online is also a problem. At the store level, if you are out of a product you can provide a different solution, but online, if you are out of stock, you lose the sale. If your inventory isn’t accurately measured, you will compromise your customer service by not being able to fill orders. Your merchandising mix might be different for online. Shipping solutions will vary based on where you are shipping (international, post office box, military base, etc.).

Lawrence Mortenson: In most ways, running a successful online store is a completely different business from running a successful bricks-and-mortar. Zappos (www.zappos.com) didn’t get started by an already existing bricks-and-mortar shoe store chain. It was started by a young kid who liked shoes and who understood the power of the Internet. Different mind-set, different skill set. It’s all learnable; brands just have to be open to learning new things and realizing much of what they know may not apply online.

GCI: How can a brand manage its image and positioning when retailed in an online environment? Are there virtual equivalents to the POP, display kits and shelf displays that brands often offer to bricks-and-mortar retailers?

Kathleen McNeill: This is the first thing I asked when I started at Beauty.com. In-store merchandising has its online equivalents: impulse items on customer check out pages, cross-sell/up-sell on product detail pages, featured item spots, banner advertisements and editorial features all accomplish basically the same thing as fixture and window displays, endcaps, and travel/mini POS sections in store.

Shawn Tavakoli: There are definite equivalents. The key in managing the brand image online is consistency. You want to make sure that the customer experience online is consistent with your brand image. The look and feel of your site needs to be consistent. Consumers should be able to navigate with ease and find what they need. The online equivalents of POP displays and shelf displays are your home and category pages. The home page is particularly important, as it’s usually the first place the consumer will land when going to your site. You have an opportunity to feature new and exciting products on your home page. Also, online gives you infinite merchandising opportunities.