Getting A Piece Of E-Tail

Sure electronic commerce is big. Just look in the business section of any newspaper on any given day, and the headlines scream out about the successes of Amazon.com. If that weren’t enough, Jupiter Research says online consumer spending on goods and services will reach $37.5 billion in 2002, up from $2.6 billion in 1997.

You want a piece of the e-tail action. But how do you ensure your company’s place alongside that of CDnow?

In a word (well, actually two): Customer service. The old rules of retail translate. Only the medium has changed.

And yet, most e-tailers are failing miserably at it. The ugly truth, according to Jupiter, is that 42 percent of 125 web sites surveyed never responded to customer inquiries, took more than five days to reply, or simply didn’t have a system in place to respond to problems by email. It’s the equivalent of walking away from your cash register. It’s e-tail suicide.

So just how do you treat each customer as if he or she is your one and only most important client? How do you become the Nordstrom of online commerce?

Email. It’s fast. It’s cheap. And used correctly, it can be the tool for creating those magical one-to-one marketing relationships we keep hearing about.

Increase market share. Increase wallet share. Increase customer retention.

That’s the goal, right? With targeted emails, you will succeed in all of these areas. Here’s how:

Susie Oklahoma just purchased a pair of size 13 shoes from your web site. You send her an email receipt of the sale, along with a confirmation number and information on how to track her purchase should that be necessary. With the receipt arrives some specialty sale item just for Susie. New shoes . perhaps you need some new socks? Et voila! Your rag wool overruns just happen to be on closeout. Susie goes for the socks too. And she opts in to receive occasional newsletters about future sales.

Congratulations on your up-sell. Unfortunately, Susie’s shoes don’t match the dress she was planning to wear them with. She emails you to let you know of her dilemma. With an email response system in place, a customer service representative can immediately shoot back an answer, informing Susie how to return, exchange, or get a refund. She gets her answer quickly, as you have many such responses that deal with just about any sort of question imagined – and all are easily edited to fit individual requests.

Perhaps most important, you know a little bit about Susie. Now, you have her shoe size, you know that she likes rag wool socks, and you have her permission to contact her again.

Here is where the real one-to-one marketing magic comes in: When you send Susie emails to let her know about specials “just for her.” Shoes available only in size 11, 12 and 13; and in nine months, you remind her that those wool socks may be starting to wear a bit thin in the heel.

Susie is thrilled. She feels like you really know her. And when things didn’t go as planned, you helped her out. She tells her friends all about her “special shoppers” who alert her of special sales on size 13 shoes.

Increased efficiency. Reduced customer service costs. Enhanced customer relations.

So look out, Amazon.com!

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