Helping retailers understand the multi-channel challenge

George Ioannou, Head of Creative & Strategy at Maginus, offers advice on what retailers must consider when developing a multi-channel offering.

The majority of businesses now accept that a clear approach to multi-channel retailing is essential for success. However, for more traditional retailers it may be viewed as a step into the unknown. The latest results from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index reveal that total online sales in June 2010 rose a fifth year on year. Shoppers spent a total of 4.4 billion online during June, equivalent to 72 for every person in the UK.
With such impressive growth rates, retailers without a deep understanding of the internet need to work with partners who can help them make business decisions that will improve their online offering to customers. But senior managers are faced with tough decisions reading a few articles on SEO won't give the insight required to understand what is required to drive customers to an online site and return time after time. It's essential that at board level the power of a multi channel business is understood and directors take the time to listen what will help their business operate more smoothly.  
Finding your partner 
Once a business realises it needs to either increase its online efforts or re-think why its website isn't meeting its targets, it then becomes important for companies to consider a number of areas.
Organisations must look at the usability of their site. Retailers must first consider their target market, who might be visiting a site and how they might be accessing it. Web accessibility refers to how businesses can check a multitude of different functions, including; page file size, coding errors, browsers and visual impairment.
There are several areas that a company may need to work through to understand any potential weaknesses. This may include areas such as; confusing the customer on the online order form, or not being able to add goods to a wish list or the site making it difficult for you to add items to your shopping basket. All these issues may be responsible for a customer abandoning their shopping basket.
Also, different people like to view sites from a variety of devices, such as a PC, notebook or a mobile phone.  Companies must consider whether users will experience limited navigation if they are viewing via something other than a desktop computer.
Accessibility and usability is about designing and building a suitable website which makes a great customer experience while optimising for sales. Retailers must look to measure change and seek feedback so they can be sure that they're meeting their customers' demands. It can be expensive but there are worthwhile returns.
It will optimise SEO and become easier to maintain and ultimately it will attract more customers. However, testing a website for accessibility can be a time-consuming and laborious process. There are free web accessibility toolbars available which have been developed to aid manual examination of web pages for a variety of aspects of accessibility. Working with an expert will help retailers find the most suitable solution for their business and senior management should not be afraid to ask questions regarding what this will mean for their organisation in the long term.
Performing at your best 
One way of a business ensuring that its web services are supporting the company through a period of growth and delivering real success is by bringing a number of services under the roof of one partner to allow an organisation to perform at its optimum.
More often than not if companies have too many partners it's easy for these partners to pass the buck to each other. By bringing all of this technology and expertise under the one roof it allows for a business to be more efficient. If a retailer uses a variety of partners then there is opportunity for projects to be delayed as one party blames another for delays in work being completed.
Retailers can ill afford for time to be wasted on projects so if all work is completed by a single organisation then getting tasks completed will be much simpler. If an organisation works together with a single partner it can build and develop a close working relationship which will blossom over time.
Retailers trading across multiple channels should look to work with an agency who can provide them will the necessary technology and expert advice to give them comprehensive control over multi-channel sales, CRM, catalogue management, promotions, procurement, fulfilment, warehousing and customer service.
This will allow companies to market, sell and deliver products and services to customers via retail outlets, the web, catalogue and mail order, telesales, trade counter and field sales effectively.
With financial directors looking to save costs while delivering fast ROI on projects, working with an agency with expertise across a range of areas can be invaluable. Also, quality data in the hands of company directors can help businesses plan and prepare in confidence for the long term future of the business.

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