Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Delicate Balance

Did anyone make it to Internet World at Earls Court a couple of weeks ago? I went along with colleague D hoping for some interesting keynotes, chats with useful suppliers and a barrage of free tat. Unfortunately I was disappointed on all three counts, however what I did get was an interesting anecdote which illustrates an issue I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while.

Picture the scene-its 10:30 am on day 1 of Internet World, you're searching fruitlessly for the coffee bar, walking the gauntlet of cheesy sales people in cheap suits (and in some cases tutus and cocktails dresses – what was that about? Anyone think it was 1987 and it’s OK to have promo girls?? No me either). Oops your badge showing the name of your company has given you away, a recent VC investment (plus let’s be honest probably because you’re a girl) has made you easy prey...he approaches, he pounces, he goes for the opener 'hi there, do you work in marketing?’ so far so classic sales.

The poor man almost had a heart attack when he realised that the potential prey in front of him-shock!horror! works in tech (well project management but same difference). His little face fell, he asked again 'you don’t work in marketing?', second time round it still wasn’t happening for him. Newsflash Mr-Cheap-Suit -neither me nor D work in marketing. He couldn’t have looked more like a dog whose favourite chew toy has been taken away. Luckily his confusion ensured a quick getaway. (though the coffee was not worth it – instant coffee for £1.90 - it really was 1987 inside Earls Court)

So why is it so surprising that someone at an internet conference who works for a transactional website - isn’t in marketing? In my view-it shouldn't be, though I’ve seen this kind of thinking time and time again in my consultancy days.

Traditionally retailers started their forays into online from one of two places. Their marketing team or their trading team. For a marketing team this was another way to advertise product. A giant billboard to the world. Plus they had the budgets. For trading departments the website was yet another store- this time a direct way to sell product skipping the operational hassles of the store estate. In lots of cases ecommerce departments haven’t shaken off these humble beginnings and you’ll find many an ecommerce team which started in marketing is still in marketing, led by someone with a marketing background and reporting to the CMO.

Last Thursday I attended an event organised by eCommerce UK (the LinkedIn group) - The Great Social Media Debate at County Hall. The format of the event focused on a debate about whether customers were aware of social media. It was a great all round evening but one of the key things I took away was the fantastic arguments offered by David Walmsley – director of ecommerce at Dixons. Apologies for the no doubt misquote but he said something along the lines of ‘I’m not a commie, I want to sell stuff’. Ah a man after my own heart, D and I had a little retail-chuckle to ourselves. It’s a rare thing these days that you get someone admitting that ecommerce is about making money and selling more stuff. (Though funnily enough Internet Retailing this month has an article on Debenhams which says very much the same thing).

So does that leave you with two sides? (or three if you count the techies). The stereotypes speak for themselves – the creative, airy fairy marketers with their long wine soaked lunches, old school retailers (usually northern on everyone’s minds) who graft their way up from the shopfloor and could sell ice to Eskimos? Techies who don’t see daylight and exist only as an avatar in some role playing online game? How can these disparate personality types join together in the perfect org chart to produce a profitable, innovative and popular online retail experience? Who is right? The marketing based business? The trade based business? The digital based business?

None of them is.

Modern ecommerce is about leaving behind the roles of the past and forming new roles, new departments, and new standpoints. These groups can meet and they meet in one place – the customer. Marketers know the customer – they look at data, demographics, personas and brand values, they rely on data to back up their arguments and ROI to prove marketing spend. Traders know the customer because they know what they buy, they know when they buy it, how they buy it and what with. They look at a product and know when their customer would buy it and how much of it, they know what price it should be and when to mark it down to maximise throughput of lines. Your tech team built what your customer needs to make their purchase; they work to make things simple and clean and about all - fast. The customer is the point of common ground here and we should build on it. Doubtless - everyone is a product of their experiences – (I will always be tempted to look at problems from a store perspective – while colleagues will go for a press/PR or acquisition angle) and that’s not something we should move away from. What we should move towards is this idea of the customer centric business – and everyone having a role in it.

Successful businesses will surely be those who can blend the ‘e’ with the ‘commerce’.

The first step? Stop asking me if I’m in marketing.

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