February 10, 2005, 12:00 AM

Reaping the rewards of an integrated multi-channel retail strategy

To make its multi-channel strategy better serve customers and drive up sales, REI starts out by involving personnel from several departments in the planning process, vice president Joan Broughton will say at the eTail 2005 Conference next week.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

To make its multi-channel retailing strategy better serve customers and drive up sales, Recreational Equipment Inc. starts out by involving personnel from several departments in the planning process, Joan Broughton, vice president of multi-channel programs, will say during her presentation at the eTail 2005 Conference next week.

REI, a retailer of outdoor sports gear and apparel with two web sites and more than 75 stores, strives to blur the lines between shopping channels to suit the way most consumers like to shop, Broughton says. REI’s policy of offering free shipping to stores for online orders, for example, now accounts for more than 30% of direct-to-consumer sales and generates about $90 in incremental store sales each time a customer arrives to pick up something ordered online, she says.

But the in-store pick-up service would not have performed as well without early input from REI employees in several departments, including marketing, merchandising and logistics, Broughton says. “The planning stage is a good time to get everyone involved, including the perspectives of people from the online team and the store team, so potential problems come to light ahead of time,” she says.

Getting multiple teams involved in the in-store pick-up program has produced better ideas on how to improve customer service and cross-selling opportunities, she notes. For example, REI has figured how to best position products on trucks and in stores to get them prepared faster and more efficiently for arriving customers, she says.

“The more seamless the multi-channel experience is, the more customers will like it,” Broughton says.

Some retailers may overlook the importance of a seamless multi-channel experience, not realizing that most customers are already using multiple channels, she adds. But retailers need to be aware of the many ways consumers are using different channels and plan their retail strategies accordingly, she says.

“Even if some customers never buy online, they’re probably using the web to investigate purchases or do price comparisons,” Broughton says. “For retailers to persist in the view that there is great divide between online and stores means they’re probably holding back on best practices.”

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