For Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holdings, today is an extremely busy and lucrative day because the company he founded 15 years ...
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A deeper multi-channel
When most retailers think of cross-channel integration, they think of buy-on-the-web, return-to-the-store or posting their newspaper fliers online. When Gap Inc. thinks of cross-channel integration, it thinks of buy-on-the-web, return-to-the-store, but it also thinks of TV commercials, testing products on the web that it rolls into the store, web-enabled POS terminals-for starters. “We strike a strong partnership with the stores on the big ideas,” says Felix Carbullido, vice president and web general manager of Gap Online. “We continue to monitor the landscape in terms of offline and online integration.”
A new commercial featuring Madonna and Missy Elliott is a good example. Before the commercials aired this fall, Gap e-mailed a sneak peak to customers. Gap also set up a mini-site where customers could view the ad and behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of the ad. “Our customers like being in the know,” Carbullido says.
Customers at the mini-site could view the outfits the two wore, including cords with an M monogrammed on them. Gap.com has sold tens of thousands of monogrammed cords. “Having to deal with that much monogramming would have been hard to pull off in the stores,” Carbullido says.
The tight cross-channel relationship is evidence of Gap’s background, says Geoff Wissman, consultant with Retail Forward Inc. “Gap is unique in that it doesn’t have a history in catalog retailing,” he says. “That made it harder for them to make the transition to the web, but they moved up the learning curve quickly. They are graded on their ability to push sales. So there’s not a lot of branding at the site. It’s about the products.”
Among other cross-channel initiatives are three times as many sizes and lengths as are available in the stores, introduction and testing of products, such as a maternity line that is rolling out to the stores, and a policy that if a store customer wants a product the store doesn’t have, the sales associate can order it from the web site and have it delivered to the customer for free.
One of the reasons Gap.com is so tightly integrated into the entire retail operation is that Gap.com managers are part of marketing and merchandising strategy sessions from the start, Carbullido says.
But when Carbullido talks about how the web can integrate the different aspects of retailing, he’s not just talking about operations and marketing. As the Madonna/Missy Elliott commercial shows, he’s talking about much more. “We are using the web site to integrate the commerce side of retail with the theater side,” he says. Adds Wissman: “Gap is increasingly taking multi-channel retailing to the next level.”
Unique Visitors (monthly)
Harmony is what this site`s all about
Merchandise managers at Hot Topic Inc.’s HotTopic.com hang out at a lot of rock concerts-and Hot Topic picks up the tab. A nice perk, for sure, but to Tricia Higgins, director of e-commerce, it’s another way to communicate with HotTopic’s customers to find out what they want to see on HotTopic.com. “You get a lot of information from observing and talking with concert goers,” she says.
Hot Topic’s specialty is merchandising apparel and accessories tied to rock concerts and musicians with band names like Good Charlotte, the Misfits and Deftones. The emphasis is on heavy metal music, though Hot Topic offers several genres, including punk and rock-a-billy, a mixture of country and rock-and-roll. Click on products associated with one genre on HotTopic.com, and every page of that genre carries the same color theme.
A staple is band-emblazoned T-shirts, but its product line extends to full apparel and accessories outfits for males and females aged 12 to 22. It also offers special items that commemorate bands: a Deftones wall clock, for instance, or a Good Charlotte wristband. And a new baby line of infant and toddler wear for the young parents among its customer base.
But the lineup of products is constantly changing to match the band of the hour and the latest musical events. “We’re very much based on music-influenced fashion,” says Higgins, a veteran retail manager formerly with Walt Disney Co., Williams-Sonoma Inc. and Cooking.com.
And who better to provide the scoop on the latest and hottest music than Hot Topic’s customers? In addition to concert attendance, HotTopic.com engages customers in multiple ways. It polls them for their interest in CDs and videos, for instance, and asks them which bands they’d like to see on a T-shirt. The site’s “Community” section lets visitors share ideas with others on their favorite bands and fashions, giving HotTopic an eyeful of new apparel trends and undiscovered bands. “HotTopic understands its customers as well as anyone out there,” says Duif Calvin, a retail analyst based in San Francisco.
It’s also upfront with its customers, Calvin adds, on things like a product’s potential for shrinkage and shipping times-crucial to someone ordering a shirt for a particular concert. It engages shoppers by letting them listen online to streamed audio tracks, and it works with Hot Topic’s nearly 500 stores to share coupons.
Its policy of communicating with customers includes using non-professional models intended to look more like customers than cookie-cutter movie stars. “We have customers of all different shapes, sizes and ethnicity, and we want to recognize that,” Higgins says.
Unique Visitors (monthly)
Search Engine Management
*As reported by comScore Networks Inc.