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This chapter is from the book

The New Rules of the Online Renaissance

E-commerce is moving into a new era, a renewal of consumer faith in this evolving channel. This channel is also moving into a reawakening of the need for customer-focused practices and considerations to survive and thrive in the new marketplace.

Fulfilling customer expectations, providing product value, and applying excellent usability engineering factors all contribute to a successful online shopping experience for customers. Unfortunately, most online shopping experiences do not yet meet the basic retail customer's shopping expectations. For people to shop online, the experience has to be on par or better than at retail. An improved and intuitive website is dependent on holistic integration of the following actions:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Thoroughly understand your customers: who they are, what they expect, what they fear, and other psychographic considerations. Also understand what their pleasant—and unpleasant—shopping experiences are at retail, via catalog, at other online stores, and wherever else your web store's products are sold. Understand the roadblocks to purchasing. It's not just about how shoppers navigate the page today. It's also about how they shopped last year for the item and the year before that. Customer knowledge will be discussed in Chapter 2.

  • Bridge the gap between web store design and customer expectations. Most online stores start with the products they currently have, not with how the customer expects to shop for them. Just because you have a good process does not mean that you are meeting customer requirements. While online stores are streamlined in hierarchies and schematics, you cannot anticipate the way the customer wants to navigate unless you ask. Apply customer-centered design principles and methodologies to your web store modifications or design. These will be discussed in Chapters 6 and 7.

  • Factor in the value of products both to your customers and to your business profitability. Some products represent destination categories, and some are impulse purchases. Understand how each category operates and which creates the highest value.

  • Integrate and balance knowledge of customers, channels, and products. There is no magic elixir. The solution lies in the ability to unify these factors and to create improved websites.

  • Proliferate and cross-pollinate this integrated knowledge throughout your entire organization: marketing, IT departments, web design, and purchasing. Web developers should step into the shoes—and functions—of the buyers and merchandisers. Buyers and merchandisers should understand usability engineering methodologies and be ready to apply customer-centered design principles along with their recommendations on product mix. Understand the challenges facing everyone in the organization.

Each person in an e-commerce organization must be conscious of the multiple roles required to make an e-business work. You must be a marketer, a businessperson, a web designer, a shopper, and much more. Chances for success increase by taking a three-dimensional look at everyone's role in the organization and unlocking the secrets of traditional retail and catalog merchandising and human factors engineering. It requires an optimal balance of customer needs, store business drivers, and product knowledge, as shown in Figure 1-4.

Figure 1-4Figure 1–4 Sales and customer satisfaction increase when factors are combined.

As e-commerce enters this new era, short-term business models move from being product-centric to long-term category marketing solutions and from being store-centric to being customer-centric. There is a revitalized focus on cultivating long-term customer relationships. This book presents new rules that replace old methods. It's about intuitive navigation for the customer, relevant content, and effective merchandising techniques that are uniquely tailored for the electronic world. It's also about managing the delicate balance between the needs of the customer and the needs of the online merchant.

With the dawn of a new era, this online renaissance requires fresh perspectives and thinking. But, you have to do more than just have new rules; they must be applied.

  • Understand your customers intimately.

  • Tap into best practices and successful methodologies and techniques from retailing, cataloging, and e-tailing and integrate them.

  • Apply customer-centered design usability engineering methodologies to your new or improved web store and keep doing it—it's not a one-time event.

  • Understand that sales are a result of everything else you do and sales are a measure of how well you've done it.

As Mark Twain said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

Today, the only way to win is to focus on the customer. The days of cutting corners, sacrificing the consumer for increased profitability, and providing minimal service are over if companies want to succeed. The new era is all about providing the quality products the customer wants, where and when he wants them, along with superior service and convenience. Even if the investment is a little higher, profitability will increase with improved customer loyalty and higher revenue. The next chapter will give you an in-depth view of the customer.

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