Philip Sim ~ net clinic
Becoming sticky e-tailers
Like regular street retailers, e-tailers must find ways of getting customers to keep walking through their `doors'Every man and his dog appears to be trying to establish some type of e-tailing operation at present and it won't be long before the competition in cyberspace is just as fierce, in fact probably fiercer, than it is today at street level.
As in any business, once the competition hots up it becomes increasingly difficult, but increasingly more important, to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Once again, channel players will be forced to ask themselves what the value is that they add that will set them apart from their competitors.
If you have a look at any of the big e-tailing operations like E-Store and Harris you'll see that they have so far done very little to differentiate themselves. They're basically electronic catalogues integrated with e-commerce capabilities. Hang on, you might ask, isn't that basically what an e-tailer is?
Try telling one of the big book stores, particularly in the US, that retailing is just about having a bunch of products on shelves and a cash register to take the orders. That used to be the case, but now those retailers have very much moved on to providing more of a literary experience, serving coffee, providing Internet access and so on.
In the face of increasing competition, they've been forced to up their value-add and improve the shopping experience they provide to customers.
Similarly, e-tailers will need to improve the online shopping experience, by adding value to their Web sites through various online services. To me, the best example in the computer field is US-based CNET, which has brilliantly integrated editorial and reviews into the online shopping experience.
This allows buyers to research their buying decisions at the time of purchase and is a powerful differentiator and value-add for CNET. Amazon.com and other book and music e-tailers that allow customers to post reviews that can be perused by other potential buyers is another example.
Or perhaps you could provide your customers with free e-mail, regular newsletters or even free Internet access? There are countless online services that you can provide to your electronic customers that will help keep them coming back to your electronic store again and again.
Don't think either that you have to develop all these services in-house. Whether it is content or online applications, you can be guaranteed there is someone on the Web willing to provide them to you . . . for a price of course.
A site like iSyndicate (www.isyndicate.com) is a portal for content you can license or use to add value to your site. Indeed, most traditional print publishers are moving into the content syndication business.
For example, IDG, the publisher of Australian Reseller News as well as ComputerWorld, Australian PC World and CIO, has begun licensing its content, and you can expect to see stories written for these magazines and Web sites appear not just on IDG sites but on sites of other IT companies like recruitment and training companies, distributors and resellers (if your interested feel free to e-mail me).
Like any business, you need to keep your customers coming back through the door and while competitive prices and great customer service will always be the major tenets of any successful business, you also need to start thinking about how you can improve the `stickiness' of your e-tailing operation.
Philip Sim is IDG's Director of Digital Communities. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org