February 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

Everything in Order

(Page 2 of 2)

Although systems from companies like iCongo, OrderDynamics, Alvenda and other vendors are building out how they can manage orders across channels, retailers say it can still take a lot of leg work to realize the benefits of an effective cross-channel system. At Henry's Camera, McPherson notes that the retailer made a "significant investment" in middleware infrastructure to provide for real-time data integration between its e-commerce platform and its legacy POS/ERP system. Middleware, which serves some of the same purpose of an application programming interface, enables disparate technology systems to automatically share information.

But the extra work was worth it, McPherson adds, because it enabled the retailer to run marketing campaigns across multiple channels without worrying about how Henry's could manage orders from all those channels. A recent online promotion for $20 off the price of a backpack for carrying camera gear, for example, allowed online visitors to click to see a list of stores offering the same deal. "This allowed the marketing team to deliver more channels and more sales on the front end, while keeping compatibility with order management," McPherson says.

Harry Rosen also expects to accept orders through Facebook as well as mobile devices—a capability it can easily build on its iCongo platform, Butterfield says—but it wants to first make sure both its customer base and its employees are ready. The retailer will move ahead with plans to take order referrals from Facebook, but not until it builds up its staff and customer relationship strategies to improve how it can interact with Facebook shoppers in a way that resembles the high level of personal service offered in its stores.

"As a 100-year-old brand, our web customers tend to know us already and are familiar with our strong in-store retail experience," he adds. "But by making additional channels available to them, particularly in the social media arena, we are able to capture different customer segments that prefer different channels like eBay, Facebook and Twitter."

Learning the lingo of Facebook

The move to take Facebook orders will require a limited amount of new software coding on the iCongo platform and the retailer's Facebook page, but that will be the easy part, Butterfield says. The more involved part will be adding and training staff to communicate with Facebook users, engaging in online conversations geared toward helping consumers choose among Harry Rosen's made-to-order outfits without coming across as overly aggressive salespeople.

When a customer has registered for an account with Harry Rosen, his online as well as store purchases are compiled in the iCongo system and fed into the retailer's Sage Software CRM application. Then, when that customer makes a purchase at a store POS terminal, the clerk will see on the POS screen a summary of his past purchases both online and in the store. If they included mostly shirts, for example, the clerk might recommend a new selection of ties to go with them. "Clerks use their knowledge of our products and the customer's interests to cross-sell," Butterfield says.

Other retailers are finding additional ways to offer customers new ways to place orders and accept delivery. Web-only retailer eBags.com Inc., for instance, is working with ShopRunner, a unit of GSI Commerce Inc., to offer free two-day shipping throughout the retailer's network of more than 500 drop shippers. Using its own in-house-developed software for communicating orders to its drop shippers, eBags integrated technology from ShopRunner to automatically let drop shippers know when an order should be shipped under ShopRunner's contract with carriers. When a drop shipper receives an order electronically from eBags, the order indicates whether the shipper should ship the order under the ShopRunner contract.

The option of offering free expedited shipping through all of eBags' drop shippers, says Peter Cobb, the retailer's vice president of marketing, has helped to keep down order cancellations.

Consumers who subscribe to ShopRunner pay an annual fee of $79 to get unlimited free and guaranteed two-day shipping on orders placed with any participating merchant, who shares with ShopRunner both the fee revenue and the cost of shipping.

Keeping the orders flowing

ShopRunner is working with retail chains to help build purchasing by in-store shoppers, ShopRunner CEO Michael Golden says. Participating retailers, whom Golden did not name, have been offering free trial offers of ShopRunner to a customer who wants an item that isn't available in store, or who wants to customize a product or purchase a gift and have it shipped to the recipient.

"If somebody buying a gift goes to a store to check out a product and feel it, why take the product home and send it to the recipient when you can have it sent by the retailer?" Golden says, adding that he expects more retailers to offer the free trial run this year. "It's a great integration of ShopRunner that multichannel retailers can offer."

ShopRunner is also building out a mobile strategy, he adds. It's developing an iPhone app, due for launch in the second quarter, that will let a ShopRunner subscriber—including potentially one shopping in a store that competes with ShopRunner retailers—use her phone to find an item she's considering in the store at the e-commerce site of a ShopRunner merchant and order it for free home delivery.

Providing that level of service and flexibility in how shoppers can place orders can go a long way toward winning over cross-channel shoppers.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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