May 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

The Next Act

(Page 2 of 2)

Ertell arrives at a turning point in Borders’ evolution, where his experience in store operations stands to come in handy. Borders’ web-enabled in-store kiosks are a key differentiator from competitors such as Barnes & Noble Inc. and Books-A-Million Inc., and they’re moving toward a central role in Borders’ interactive marketing program.

“Borders had not been taking full advantage of its interactive kiosks, though communication with customers, in-store, on a personalized, customized level is probably a better opportunity with books, music and movies then in any other category,” observes Tam. “That’s because we know intimately what motivates, interests and stirs the passions of our customers because of what they buy. It would be different if we were selling washing machines or sweat socks.”

Re-branded kiosks

Now re-branded as “Borders Search” from their earlier iteration “Title Sleuth,” the kiosks seek to leverage the web’s interactive capabilities in the space where the vast majority of Borders’ sales occur: the stores. So far, that functionality includes searching for titles and locating them in the store, listening to music samples, special order capabilities, and registering for or checking status on Borders Rewards, a new customer loyalty program launched in February and one of the first initiatives whose implementation was overseen by Ertell.

In the future, Borders hopes to push customer-specific, personalized communication beyond its monthly My Borders e-mail newsletters out to customers who swipe their Borders Reward cards at the kiosk, as well as out to other web-enabled customer touch points such as wireless devices. In yet another new role for the kiosks, Borders already is testing CD mix-and-burn stations, at which customers can download tracks from a selection of digital music files accessible at the kiosk, pay by track, and burn their own CDs right in the store. So far, one Borders store in Woodbury, Minn., is offering this service, but Borders is preparing to extend the experiment to three stores in Charlotte, N.C.

BordersStores.com, the company’s marketing site that does everything but e-commerce, which is handled by Amazon, is in line for an expanded mission as well. “The great value in the web sites of brick-and-mortar companies too often is ignored because they are treated like a store and measured on sales,” says Ertell. “But it’s a sales driver to stores and promotions, a research tool, and all of these other things that provide value to the customer. What I’d like to do, and there is a lot of support for this at Borders, is to make sure that we use the web site to drive people to the brand, period.”

New customer metrics

So to ensure that planned enhancements to BordersStores.com deliver on that, Ertell led the development of site metrics that go beyond sales. Among them are customer satisfaction scoring, with plans to implement the services of Foresee Results Inc. shortly. Key measures also will track the number of online reservations of titles in-store, track the online reserves through to sales, and determine how many attempted online reserves are denied due to insufficient inventory.

Ertell says site effectiveness also will be measured in the number of online coupons printed out and which ones are redeemed in stores. Other key measures will include conversion rate, defined as the total number of site visitors compared to the number who reserve products online or print coupons; a relationship conversion rate that measures total visitors against the number who visit events pages or engage in other relationship building activities; and a stickiness index that tracks the amount of time visitors spend on rich content pages.

With e-commerce sales conducted through Amazon.com, the Amazon relationship provides a major window on Borders for web-oriented consumers. That means that as Borders moves to beef up all avenues of its interactive marketing, working with Amazon to bring the e-commerce site in line with the new brand vision and mission developed by Borders Group over the past six months is also in Ertell’s charge. Simply put, that mission is “to create richer, more satisfying lives through knowledge and entertainment,” according to Tam. “Ultimately, that’s everything we sell.”

That’s a sentiment that clearly sits well with Ertell, which is likely one more reason he got the nod that brought him from Tower’s California headquarters office to Borders’ corporate offices in Michigan. “I’ve always had a passion for customer advocacy and trying to make a really great customer experience, and I certainly conveyed that during the interviews,” he says.

The long-time California resident and his family have quickly adjusted to life in Michigan-the fact that Borders’ home base of Ann Arbor is acknowledged as one of the Midwest’s most beautiful college towns hasn’t hurt. Ertell also finds his transition has been eased by the findings of three different personality tests administered during the interview process, a practice routinely outsourced by Borders in vetting executive candidates. “It helped me know in advance that I would fit in. We do work well together and I think that’s testament in a lot of ways to how they set up the process,” Ertell says.

Although those tests helped peg exactly how and where Ertell’s developed skills and strengths would fit into the Borders organization, the musical tastes that started it all remain wildly unclassifiable, running the gamut of jazz, bluegrass, classical and more. And if his recent choice of morning drive music on his way to his new office at Borders is any indication, while you can take the man out of the rock band, you can’t ever completely get the rock band out of the man. “This morning I was listening to a little metal,” he says.

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