Step Up to World Class Standards (1,745 words)
By Ernie Schell
Wisely selecting appropriate back-end technologies can help bolster your multi-channel, direct-commerce operations
Thanks in large part to the innovations developed by and for Internet marketers, the pace of change in direct commerce has been dizzying in the past few years. Now that Web sites are de rigueur, most successful merchants have become "multi-channel" marketers—whether they like it or not.
While some Web merchants invest in multi-million-dollar advertising and marketing campaigns to attract traffic to their sites, others have created successful e-commerce sites that rack up sales without much, if any, money spent on promotion.
For example, when a well-known catalog of upscale household and kitchen products with a chain of popular retail stores launched its Web site in the summer of 1999, it got 15,000 visitors the very first day—without any advertising. The retailer went on to achieve strong, sustainable sales in the e-commerce channel.
As all too many marketers have learned the hard way, there's a big difference between attracting visitors to a site and turning them into customers, not to mention happy and satisfied repeat customers. Of course, the unequivocal, top-of-the-heap rule in direct marketing is that without repeat customers you're headed out of business. In e-commerce parlance, you want your site to be "sticky" so customers return often and stay long enough to get involved and make another purchase.
To achieve stickiness, start with savvy merchandising, competitive pricing, strategic targeting and compelling offers. But while all of these are necessary, they're not sufficient to sustain success in a multi-channel, direct-commerce business. For that you need good systems to manage orders and customer data cost effectively and at world-class standards—in short, a strong back end.
There are two fundamental approaches to implementing systems for customer and order management. The first, selecting "best of breed" technologies, entails setting up and integrating multiple applications, each one specializing in a critical function, such as a customer relationship management system for managing prospects and customer service; order entry; inventory management; and warehousing.