July 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

IRCE 2007: Report from the Conference

(Page 2 of 6)

Taking the reins in e-commerce
Elevating the Retail Chain E-Commerce Chief
James Connell, director of e-commerce, Roots

In the early days of online retailing, James Connell and other managers at Roots, the Canada-based designer and retailer of outdoor apparel, were out to change the world of retailing. "We were going to reinvent the world with e-commerce," he said at IRCE 2007.

When the Internet investment bust hit, most e-commerce managers left the company. But Connell remained, and over the years since he has learned to get beyond a primary focus on information technology to fill a more comprehensive role in marketing, finance and merchandising. Now, as director of e-commerce, he says, he takes a multi-channel view of Roots to push for optimal operations across stores as well as on the web.

The e-commerce chief must also ensure that the retailer`s brand is presented properly through online marketing as well as through the order and fulfillment process, Connell said. "You have to control that branding experience," he said.

Finding the right partners for growth
E-Merger Mania: Making Sure the Acquisition Is Right for You
Roger Hardy, chairman, president and CEO, Coastal Contacts Inc.

Why do an acquisition? At Coastal Contacts Inc., the answer is because acquiring four companies over the last few years has provided a market reach across 20 countries, sparked growth leading to $81 million in total 2006 revenue, and put it on a track to triple revenue over the next three years, chairman, president and CEO Roger Hardy said at IRCE 2007.

Although growing internationally has created challenges, such as dealing with several brands and staffing a call center with agents who can speak 12 languages, it has established strong bases in several markets, Hardy said.

In Sweden, for example, where Coastal Contacts acquired Lensway AB for $18.85 million in 2004, Lensway produced $45 million in 2006 revenue, more than half of Coastal Contacts` total. "Sweden is a small market, but we already have a 25% market share," Hardy said. Lensway expects to do $60 million this year, he added.

Making store kiosks friendly
The Web-Centric Store of the Future
John Rocco, director of kiosks, Indigo Books and Music

When Toronto-based Indigo Books and Music, Canada`s largest book retailer, offered in-store kiosks to shoppers as product-finding tools, things didn`t go as planned. The kiosks, originally intended only for employees, were comprised of desktop computers placed on tables in cluttered work areas. After Indigo wanted customers to use them, "they didn`t know where the kiosks were or that they could use them," Indigo director of kiosks John Rocco said at IRCE 2007.

But things took a turn for the better when Indigo installed stand-alone web-based kiosks identified as easy-to-use tools with large "SEARCH" signs and placed where customers would be sure to see them, Rocco said. In addition to letting shoppers search for in-store titles, the kiosks let shoppers order out-of-stock products online for delivery to either the store or their homes.

Indigo is planning further uses of the kiosks, including employee recruitment, self-serve gift card production and the disbursement of coupons, Rocco said.

Finding and keeping good employees
Recruiting and Retaining Top Retail Talent
Les Gore, managing partner, Executive Search International
Mark Brohan, director of research, Internet Retailer

With a shrinking workforce and competition from high-paying companies like Google Inc., it`s getting tougher for Internet retailers to find and keep qualified professionals experienced in managing the many aspects of web sites, Les Gore, managing partner of Executive Search International, said at IRCE 2007.

Gore suggested retailers broaden their scope in searching for talent, including exposure on social networking sites. While industry groups should establish university scholarships to attract more students to e-commerce, retailers should also check for talent at local community colleges. "You can find good people right in your hometown," he said.

Mark Brohan, director of research for Internet Retailer, cited a recent Internet Retailer survey that found: 46.6% of retailers said turnover of e-commerce staff was a significant problem, 50% found it now takes three months or more to find a senior online marketing professional, and 15.5% said e-commerce salaries were "much higher" than a year ago.

Driving a business for the long term
Keeping a Growth Engine on Track
Joe Alter, president and CEO, Smooth Fitness
Jay Steinfeld, CEO, Blinds.com

Growth at Smooth Fitness, a retailer of exercise equipment, rose 63% from 2004 to 2005, then another 53% last year to total online sales of about $28 million. "Pick a niche, and be the best in your spot," CEO Joe Alter said at IRCE 2007, noting that Smooth Fitness expects to spend 12% of sales on marketing and advertising this year, up from 9.5% last year. Smooth Fitness also has developed its own brand, Evo, which it sells through dealers as well as direct to consumers online.

At Blinds.com, the No. 1 performance metric is gross margin per visitor, said CEO Jay Steinfeld. "As gross margin per visitor goes up, business goes up and we can afford a lot more experimentation" in merchandising, he said. Blinds.com follows orders with automatic e-mails that ask customers what it could to improve service, helping it do about 40% of its business through repeat customers and referrals.

Build It, Run It, Sell It: What New Merchants Need to Know

Build It, Run It, Sell It:
What New Merchants Need to Know
June 5, 2007: Track C

Give the lady what she wants
Assessing the Real E-commerce Opportunity
Lauren Freedman, president, the e-tailing group

Lauren Freedman once worked for Marshall Fields, which, she recalls, had an old saying it made sure all employees knew well: "Give the lady what she wants." This is precisely the advice she offers e-retailers looking for new or unrealized opportunities in e-commerce.

Internet retailers must carefully consider and outline customer service plans that help ensure their customers are happy and content, Freedman said at IRCE 2007.

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