If there's something you've bought offline that you weren't able to buy online, we're probably thinking about that.”
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With online retail sales growing in double digits again, three to four times faster than sales at bricks-and-mortar stores, it’s no wonder that retailers of all kinds are investing heavily in their e-commerce operations. Before they invest, and as they upgrade their web sites and operations, retailers are looking to research and consulting firms to help them target their investments effectively and make the best possible use of the dollars they spend.
The research and consulting firms available to help online retailers provide a widely varying range of information and services.
For instance, retailers seeking to learn how quickly e-commerce is growing, which types of retailers are gaining market share, and the demographics and shopping preferences of today’s online consumers can go to a variety of market research firms. Some collect data by tracking the clicks of consumers who agree to be tracked. Others work with Internet service providers to analyze their data about who shops online, which shops they visit and how much they buy. Still others rely on surveying consumers or web retailers.
Many of these firms will provide some data for free as a form of marketing. They make their money by providing, for a fee, retailers and consumer goods manufacturers with more detailed information on consumer demographics and spending patterns. Those fees also vary widely. Some firms sell reports for as little as a few hundred dollars. Other do custom consulting projects that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Another important category of research and consulting firms includes those that keep up with the latest developments in e-commerce technology. They typically include experts that keep abreast of the rapid evolution of web and computing technology, and who apply that expertise to online retailing. Some produce market research reports, while others are available for consulting engagements. Retailers often hire such consulting organizations to help them choose new e-commerce platforms or to select more specific aspects of e-commerce technology, such as order management or personalization systems.
Many of the largest business consulting firms that serve Fortune 500 companies also have e-commerce specialists. They typically consult for the largest retail chains, consumer goods manufacturers and web-only retailers, helping them integrate their web-selling strategies with broader corporate goals.
There are consulting firms that specialize just in payments, an arena that’s complicated by the growing number of ways consumers pay, the ever-changing nature of fraud schemes and the increasingly complex and expensive requirements of complying with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards.
Still other consulting firms are expert at advising online retailers on how to get the best deals on shipping rates from carriers such as UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service. Some of these same firms are also well-versed in issues related to warehousing, such as how to lay out distribution centers for maximum efficiency and how to employ technology that can cut labor costs.
An increasingly important part of e-commerce is usability testing. There are several consulting firms that specialize in performing usability tests for retailers or advising web merchants on how to carry out such tests themselves.
In short, there’s a wealth of e-commerce expertise embodied in the companies listed in this Consulting/Research section.