Online Consumer Goods Faulted For Holiday Short-site-edness

Most consumer goods websites are missing their biggest opportunity this holiday season. Web surveys report a great explosion of consumer online shopping (eMarketer estimates there will be 30 million buyers on the web this season vs. 8 million last year). But research by the Peppers and Rogers Group into customer relationship management (CRM) strategies and tactics on the websites of hundreds of e-tailers shows that financial services and travel/hospitality sites do more to build relationships than consumer goods sites.

While some exceptional sites, such as Amazon.com, are frequently mentioned for their personalization features, most consumer goods sites are taxed simply to get their entire product line on the screen. Their back-office worry is having the inventory and staff to fulfill the orders. Even many sites in the books/music/video (BMV) category do little relationship-building activities, such as differentiating their customers, or personalizing the web experience. An example of what could be done:

“Never make the customer tell you the same thing twice” is a motto of one-to-one marketing (the ultimate in CRM). Travel sites do a good job integrating data to “pre-fill” preferences, and make ordering a pleasant experience. Most collect data such as your home airport, seat preference, or smoking-room choice, and do not force you to repeat these requests. Likewise, in the offline world, the clothes shop on the corner has an assistant who remembers your shirt, dress, or shoe size. But online apparel sites do not remember this information, much less preferences such as cuffs or pleats. This is just one instance of failing to capitalize on knowledge gained through previous interactions.

The research report “State of One to One Online” examines websites across eight industries with a focus on their relationship-building features. In the process of identifying 26 specific one-to-one marketing capabilities demonstrated by the best websites, the researchers found significantly different scores that followed patterns determined by industry. As their offline counterparts have done for years, web marketers seem to copy what their direct competitors do, often without bothering to learn what useful techniques could be borrowed and adapted from other industries.

The 26 one-to-one capabilities analyzed fall into four broad categories: “Identify,” “Differentiate,” “Interact,” and “Customize.” While the consumer goods/BMV sites scored well in identifying their customers, as well as in interacting with them, they seriously lag in the categories of “Differentiate” and “Customize” when specific capability ratings are grouped together.

One bright note is an increase in consumer goods sites that have put up personalized “Wish Lists” this season for customers to make available to their friends and relatives, and “Address Books” of people to whom they frequently send gifts, with dated “reminder slips.” Victoria’s Secret even allows the shopper to give her husband or boyfriend (or both) a password to see her secret wish list.

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