Use universal business logic to create a consistent shopping experience
In the next few years, e-commerce will play an increasingly significant role in the long-term success of multichannel retailers. Not only will Web site sales account for more and more of an organization’s direct business, but the Web site also will be expected to support sales in retail stores and catalogs. The walls that currently stand between channels must cease to exist if online marketers are to satisfy the expectations of increasingly sophisticated customers.
Universal business logic is the key to success in this new era of all-channel selling. Universal business logic relies on technology to synchronize online and offline marketing and promotional efforts. It consistently applies protocols for pricing, customer care, product descriptions, images, personalization and all other key selling elements from one channel to the next. It unites your channels and provides a seamless shopping experience for the customer, increasing sales and encouraging customer loyalty.
Your Customers Are Way Ahead of You
To customers, your business is like a candy jar. Stores, Web sites and catalogs are merely the different lids they lift to get to the goodies inside. They already switch back and forth from one channel to another during any given shopping session, getting inspiration from catalogs, seeking the lowest prices online, examining products in the store, and buying from whichever channel is most convenient.
Customer expectations of Web site usability and online support are rising. They will want call-center reps and retail clerks to know exactly what is available online and at what price; they will want their Web orders to count toward retail purchase incentive programs; and they will want quick answers from everyone in your company, regardless of that person’s role or area of expertise. They won’t accept the explanation, “The systems do not communicate with each other.” Currently, few companies can live up to their standards.
Universal Business Logic
What these customers are asking for is known as universal business logic. This emerging method of uniting channels is made possible primarily by the growth in sophistication and availability of technologies that integrate vital customer and market data into the online marketing and order placement/fulfillment process.
Typically, each component of an online business maintains its own protocols for how it relates to other components, e.g., databases, e-commerce applications, entire sales channels. Universal business logic provides methodologies for consolidating all these protocols into one centralized control center managed by the e-commerce application. This will enable all channels to interact far more harmoniously than was ever possible before, since all promotions, campaigns, displays and messaging for retail, catalog and Web can be controlled simultaneously from one point.
A fully integrated data warehouse containing your own proprietary information from your Web, catalog and retail channels is at the core of this system. Your Web site, retail stores and catalog service centers must read from the same universal customer and product databases. This is the only way to ensure effective customer relationship management as customers switch rapidly from channel to channel. The technology also must provide your marketing and merchandising experts with the data-analysis tools they need to fully capitalize on the knowledge contained in those databases. The efficiencies generated through such an arrangement will not only create a more robust and responsive selling mechanism, but also keep costs under control and help you remain competitive.
In short, effective use of data will be the key to success in the coming years. The three primary channels—retail, catalog and Web—will only realize their full potential when they share the same universal data and data-communications pipelines.
Universal Business Logic in Action
Universal business logic benefits both customers and merchants. For the customer, it creates a consistent view of purchasing options and your business across all channels. For the merchant, it creates an accurate and consistent multichannel view of the customer. Universal business logic can be applied to these and other key data categories, including customer order history, promotions and discounts, customer preferences, product images/displays, product pricing, loyalty programs, campaigns, and messaging.
Below are some basic examples of how to apply universal business logic. Remember that any universally applied rule can be overruled for any given channel at any time if it makes good business sense (e.g., reduced prices at a single store for a clearance sale, a Web-only loyalty program, early access to new products through a “spring preview” catalog).
1) Promotional Coupons: Provide printable online coupons that customers can use at local stores. Allow your Web site to accept codes from printed coupons. Provide a box on your catalog order form for the codes from your electronic or printed coupons.
2) Discounts, promotions, sales: Provide these incentives equally and instantaneously across all channels. This way you won’t penalize customers for buying through the “wrong” channel.
3) Returns and exchanges: Facilitate the return/exchange process by allowing customers to return merchandise at retail locations or via fulfillment centers. Make the process fast and convenient. Universal access to the purchase data makes it easier for you.
4) E-mail opt-in/opt-out: Up-to-date e-mail preferences are vital. Inspired customers can opt-in for newsletters or promotional messages right from the checkout counter, or mark the traditional box on the order form or Web page.
5) Loyalty programs: Honor all loyalty programs throughout all channels. Permit accrual and redemption of “rewards points” wherever the purchase is made. Collect e-mail addresses and opt-in permission whenever retail customers sign up for your various loyalty programs.
6) Customer order history: Any customer service representative—at your call center or a retail location—should be able to look up customer history at a moment’s notice. This aids in placing repeat orders, making returns/exchanges and updating customer information.
7) Purchase option button: Let your online customers select how and where to buy. Let them pay online and pick up their purchases at the nearest store, pay in the store and have it delivered, or simply check stock levels at local stores via a Web browser.
8) Notification: Provide your opt-in customers with e-mail reminders about sales, seminars and other events at local stores. This also holds true for catalog promotions.
9) “Request a Catalog”: This gets the catalog to customers and gives them an incentive to provide demographic information such as address, e-mail and opt-in permission. Clerks can collect this information at your stores, or customers can click the usual button on your Web site.
10) Contests: Accept contest entries through all three channels. Don’t require e-mail addresses, but do offer an input line for e-mails for those customers willing to volunteer the information.
11) Check the site: Train sales staff to check the Web site when local stores do not have specific items in stock. If the store has Web access or kiosks, store staff should help the customer order online.
12) Gift registries and wish lists: These can be easily implemented through a Web application. Individual lists can be instantaneously updated when an item is purchased or when the list’s creator adds or deletes something.
13) Catalog quick-order: This is a staple of e-commerce sites—allowing customers to shop by catalog product code online—and universal data access can bring it right into a retail store. Hand the product to the customer over the counter or place a catalog order if it’s not in stock.
The opportunities are limitless. Even though the implementation of universal business logic could mean a considerable overhaul of your online systems and databases, it should be seriously considered for your next major Web-site revision. Your customers are expecting it.
Ken Burke is president and CEO of Multimedia Live, an e-commerce technology and development company based in Petaluma, Calif. He can be reached at (707) 773-3434 or by e-mail at email@example.com.