Joan Mulvihill’s response to Irish Independent article “Irish consumers to spend €20bn online by 2020 but strategy needed” please click here to read.
This is an interesting article. The stats are ones that have been touted for quite some time so there is nothing new there. What is interesting about this article is not what it says but rather what it does not say. There has been talk for ages now of a National Digital Strategy, which according to this article is “underway” and will be implemented in the “coming years”. And yet, it is not even this rather slow pace that is of interest to me. What interests me is the dearth of even headline ideas/concepts or indeed the nature of the ‘brave decisions’ that need to be made. My sense is that some of the strategy makers believe that supporting Irish retailers to have ecommerce websites is the answer to the problem. If only more Irish retailers would sell their products online then people wouldn’t shop from overseas anymore. I’m unconvinced.
The IIA has long supported Irish businesses developing their online sales proposition to enhance their relationship with their customers; through the provision of better value, better range and more choice. But that is not to say that every retailer should have their own site. Some need to take a more creative approach to channel management.
An understanding of consumer behaviour is required. Shoppers are not buying from Amazon or Net-A-Porter or ASOS because of the dearth of books, toys or clothes to buy from Irish retailers online. They are buying from Amazon, Net-a-Porter and ASOS because of their breadth of range, their pricing and ultimately free or comparatively low cost to ship. It costs less to have something delivered from Amazon than it does to park in town when I’m shopping. It definitely costs less to have something delivered from Amazon than it does to park in town, buy something and post it to New York to my godchild for her birthday. And so if I look online to Irish independent retailers, it is clear that they are hampered and disadvantaged by expensive shipping costs relative to the price of the item and short delivery times are a serious premium.
It is incredibly difficult for Irish retailers to compete. The National Digital Strategy element that deals with ecommerce has to encapsulate the infrastructure that supports ecommerce. And that infrastructure includes a lot more than quality broadband.
The size of the Irish market is small. Irish retailers’ capacity to reach scale and enjoy any economies of that scale requires vision for developing an international presence. We solicit the best tech companies in the world to set up in Ireland, many of whom provide online sales services. Is that the kernel of a solution? I want to support Irish independent retailers by ensuring they have the tools that they need to market their products/services but unless we sort out the infrastructure and the ambition for international retail then only a small number can achieve the scale needed to succeed. Perhaps our best bet for getting the Irish consumer to buy online from businesses in Ireland is to attract the ecommerce giants to HQ in Ireland. We’ve secured the tech companies that support them so why not secure them directly.
The strategy for achieving this would be predicated on having the best online sales specialists, fulfillment/operations planners, designers, digital advertisers and customer service operators based in Ireland with localised fulfillment centres overseas. We could incentive these businesses to operate through Ireland with a special online sales tax incentive and develop Ireland as an ecommerce hub for the sale of goods AND services online. Combined with the digital content strategy of the IDSC, ecommerce for digital content (books, music, film) in addition to the sale of physical goods might all be funnelled through Ireland as the uniquely placed global ecommerce hub.
This is what interests me. This article might not be revealing anything new or insightful but it stimulates thought. Creativity exists within the cracks.
Posted by Joan Mulvihill, IIA CEO
Fresh from the standing-room only IIA Ecommerce Breakfast Briefing at Irish Times Training, I’m still reeling from the number of subscribers, the cool and insightful presentation stylings of Graham Merriman and Vinny O’Brien and the smart interrogations from the audience Q&A.
So where do I start? In 1995. I know that’s a while ago but it’s when I started my working life in Woolworths in London and when I discovered that my passion for retail extended to both sides of the counter! It’s a passion that’s stayed with me. Retail, etail, potAtoe, potatoe! I’m three years in the Irish Internet Association and its all still so much about digital marketing and not so much about online sales. Marketers, my apologies! The role of the digital marketing professional is critical but the stalwart 4Ps are as important now as ever. All very retro but as Graham Merriman of Carrickane Consulting asked the WWDDD question (What Would Don Draper Do?), I reckon I have earned some latitude.
Both of the speakers are retailers. Yes, actual retailers. They are people who sell stuff. People who pack stuff, put them in boxes and deliver them to customers. One of this morning’s messages was a clear shout out to lose the jargon, its retail not rocket science. Is it about SEO or is it simply about how to get the most from your website. Is it about UX or is it simply about the customer journey? Maybe that’s just semantics if you’re in the know but there’s a world difference if you are the provider of services to an offline retailer who’s trying to grow their online sales. Vinny O’Brien from Arnotts was clear on this point. Keeping the lights on in your ecommerce business is half the battle as you sink costs at the start to achieve your long term strategy. You’ve got to keep the business leader with you.
So what about the customer? I love a good debate but it’s equally reassuring to see two speakers in synch. Graham recommends knowing them. You need to know them, know why they are coming into your store and equally know why they are coming onto your website. You need to know what they need, want and expect from you and you need to know how to manage their perception of that. Then it’s easy. Just find a way of giving it to them. Profitably. Vinny may have said this more than once but in case you missed it, here it is again. You can’t beat research and statistics! “Retail is detail” is the old adage and whether it’s online or offline, it still holds true.
So keeping it kitsch, let’s talk Eurovision! Graham made the point best with the Jedward case study. Everyone in Europe knew who they were. Big tick in the digital marketing ‘awareness’ box. But did they convert? Alas no. Our Eurovision hopes dashed for another year. Conversion is the name of the game. A great digital marketing campaign will acquire followers and fans but it needs to acquire sales by converting fans to customers. This is retail and retail is about competing for sales not competing for popularity.
And it seems that the key is to become popular AND sell your products. The guys were unanimous in citing pricing and service as the big drivers. When is a price promise not a price promise? When it excludes website pricing! 42% of people going into stores are using their smart phones to compare prices so be careful about making promises that you’re only ‘kind of’ keeping. And just when you’d gotten your head around your pricing strategy across online and offline, Graham dived right into the challenges and opportunities for cross-border selling. Online is the first real ‘common market’. It’s the first time we’ve experienced real price transparency and product fulfilment across borders – even if only 8.5% of European consumers are actually doing it.
Service is the big online -offline differentiator. In the offline world, the service element is more or less over when the customer has taken the product to the counter, paid for it and has gone home, happy. Online, the outbound customer journey becomes a much bigger part of the game. How quickly can you deliver? How cost effectively? How do you deal with returns? They’ve left your online store but they haven’t ‘gotten’ anything yet. The service journey is a long way from over and the onus of the experience is heavily on the retailer.
And speaking of service, the last word goes to Vinny, the aforementioned research and stats advocate, who is just as adamant about embracing customer feedback. “We’re in a constant process of refinement in an environment that’s changing constantly”. Two virtuous circles of iteration in perfect synchronicity? Feedback from customers should not be seen as not an opportunity to test the crisis management capability of your PR agency or the ‘diffusion-in-140- characters-or- less’ capability of your in-house tweeter. It is rather, an opportunity to refine your product and service offering to ensure repeat customer conversion – sales. Did I mention that it’s all about sales!
The presentations from Graham Merriman of Carrickane Consulting and Vinny O’Brien of www.Arnotts.ie are free for download from the IIA website www.iia.ie/resources and of course feel free to join the Irish Internet Association by going too www.iia.ie/join-now to benefit from the IIA member discount for our Diploma in eCommerce Management.
The IIA in partnership with Irish Times Training are delighted to launch a brand new Diploma course in e-Commerce Management.
This Course covers everything you need to know to run a successful ecommerce business. Click here for more information.
Module 1: Planning your e-Commerce Customer Proposition
Lecturer: Ronan O’Brien of Zatori – The Costume Shop
Module 2: Business Planning
Lecturer: Fionan Dunne of CFO Services
Module 3: Effective Website Design
Lecturer: Gareth Dunlop of Fathom
Module 4: Driving Customer Traffic – PPC, SEO, Affiliate Marketing and E-Mail Marketing, Deals Management
Lecturer: Ronan O’Brien of Zatori
Module 5: Transaction Management
Lecturer: Bob Curran of Buy4Now
Module 6: eCommerce Customer Services: CRM – Relationships and Returns
Lecturer: Bob Curran of Buy4Now
Module 7: eCommerce Customer Services: Deliveries and Deadlines
Lecturer: Rory O’Connor of Scurri.com
Module 8: International e-Commerce: Translations & Transactions
Lecturer: Mark Rodgers of Cipherion Translations
Module 9: Metrics / Analytics
Lecturer : David Murphy of Amplify
Module 10: Content – Images and Copy
Lecturer: Fiona Ashe of FlasheForward Communications
Module 11: Mobile Commerce
Lecturer: Sian Gray, Mobile Marketing specialist (Nokia)
FREE Module : Breakfast Briefing Managing Customer Information: Your Legal Obligations as an eCommerce Manager from Gary Davies, Assistant Data Protection Commissioner
If you’ve got customer information on file you will need to know in what form and for how long you can store it. You will also need to know for what you may use it. You will need to be fully aware of your obligations as a retailer vis a vis Trading Standards etc.. This module is painful but necessary!