July 31, 2007, 12:00 AM

IRCE 2007: Report from the Conference

(Page 3 of 6)

Freedman, president of consulting and research firm The E-tailing Group, said the key elements of a thorough and successful web retailer customer service plan are:

--A web site with a comprehensive customer service destination

-- An easy-to-find phone number and list of customer service hours

-- Inventory status notification on product pages and/or in shopping carts

-- Guest membership capability

-- An efficient checkout process

-- A privacy policy and guarantee

-- Timely fulfillment, within three to five business days

-- A clear and concise returns policy

Finding the engine to drive sales
Be in the Driver`s Seat When Choosing an E-commerce Engine
Patti Freeman Evans, retail analyst, Jupiter Research
Diana Nelson, CEO, Kazoo & Co.

The majority of web merchants use custom-built, in-house e-commerce platforms--it`s the dominant way retailers perform commerce and manage technology. At the same time, a majority of e-retailers are looking to change their platforms this year.

These are the conclusions of recent research presented by Patti Freeman Evans, retail analyst at JupiterResearch, at IRCE 2007. Freeman Evans added, when it comes to building in house vs. buying technology, "There aren`t too many platform vendors out there that offer serious options for everything an e-commerce platform needs to do."

Diana Nelson, CEO of toy retailer Kazoo & Co., is reviewing e-commerce platform vendors. She launched the company`s web store in 1999 using the Yahoo Stores platform, which she still uses today. Her company brings in about $3 million a year. One problem Nelson is finding in her search is that most e-commerce platform vendors` products are geared toward e-retailers that sell more than $10 million a year.

The host with the most
Making the Right Web Hosting Choice
Adrian Martinez, president of DogCatRadio.com
James Pappas, e-commerce manager, J.L. Hufford Coffee and Tea

Shortly after DogCatRadio.com launched in 2005, the New York Times, "Good Morning America," the BBC and other media outlets were all over the Internet radio station/e-retailer. The wave of publicity caused a tsunami of traffic that left a surprise for the web site operators: a monthly bill from Earthlink, its web hosting company, for $87,000, up from its regular $3,000 to $4,000. "So we decided to go to another web hosting company, and we had a disaster there, too," said Adrian Martinez, president of DogCatRadio.com.

Ultimately the company found a new web host, IPower. Martinez advised session attendees that the most important thing when looking for a web hosting firm is "to find one that can grow with you."

James Pappas, e-commerce manager at multi-channel retailer J.L. Hufford Coffee and Tea, added, "Research the hell out of hosting companies. That can`t be stressed enough."

Three rules to finding employees
Hidden Gold: The Small E-Retailer`s Quest for Talent
Tom Cox, president and CEO, Golfballs.com

To find and hire the best employees, there are three basic rules, Tom Cox, president and CEO of Golfballs.com, told attendees at a breakout session. "First, senior management must recognize the importance of hiring great employees," he said. "Second, quantify the direct and indirect costs of a bad hire. A poor e-mail marketer, for example, ultimately can cost a business quite a bit. And third, get the right people on the bus. If you have the right people, they know where to go."

E-retailers must generate a pool of applicants to have on hand at all times, Cox added. "Create and leverage connections," he advised. "Look to trade groups; universities where I speak six or seven times a year; the business community, such as a local chamber of commerce; and industry events. I never say no to a speaking opportunity."

Sometimes smaller is better
Marketing on a Budget: Promoting Your Web Site Without Going Broke
Mitch Lieberman, president and CEO, OneWayFurniture.com
Alan Rimm-Kaufman, president, The Rimm-Kaufman Group

When it comes to optimizing paid and natural search engine marketing efforts, retailers are better off using three solid, relevant keywords rather than going for 100, Mitch Lieberman, president and CEO of OneWayFurniture.com, told IRCE 2007 attendees. "Search engines will change their algorithms all of a sudden and the burst of traffic you get from 100 keywords will disappear," he said. "Smart and relevant keywords go the distance."

Retailers can identify effective keywords through trial and error. "What works, grab it," Lieberman said. "Then find and kill keywords that don`t. And make sure to regularly trim the fat to hone keywords, which saves money."

Co-speaker Alan Rimm-Kaufman, president of The Rimm-Kaufman Group, agreed. "One should do broad testing," he said. "Throw them up against the wall and see what sticks. Ultimately, retailers will get a lot of use out of only a small number of keywords."

Retail Merchandising at Web Speed
June 6, 2007: Track D

Hitting the best margins
How the Internet Creates Commodity Pricing-- and What You Can Do About It
Joseph Ryan, e-commerce director, US/EMEA, eClerx
Donald Cohen, CEO, Tool King

While the web supports competition that forces down retail prices, it also offers opportunities to sharpen pricing strategies and produce maximum profit margins, Joseph Ryan, e-commerce director at eClerx, provider of pricing optimization services, said at IRCE 2007. A retailer should combine internal information such as inventory levels along with external data available on the web, including competitors` pricing and product availability. "Use as many factors in your pricing decisions as possible," he said.

Don Cohen, CEO of Tool King, advised not to reward irrational price competition. "Compete on price, but not only on price," he said. "Compete with high value, not just low cost." Cohen said retailers should rely on customer surveys and analysis of shopping behavior in determining pricing strategies, and determine cost and ROI by each department. Retailers should also work closely with suppliers to get favorable terms in freight delivery costs, rebate programs and other price promotions, he added.

Getting personal
The New Personalization: Making Suggestions Relevant
Albert diPadova, vice president, Due Maternity

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