When e-commerce doesn’t play collectively if fails

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It’s taken for granted that no business can avoid e-commerce. Even if that seems obvious today, it’s not always been the case. Remember the era when many used think that since they had lot of stores they didn’t need to sell online. When it was clear that “no one would buy airline tickets online”. When e-commerce “will only work for small objets”.

Today we can buy anything online, from books to cars, including household appliances. Stores don’t allow any business to neglect online sales because customers don’t go where there asked to, they decide based on the best experience and mix online and offline interactions. Even if your store is 50 meters away you can miss a sale to be benefit of someone who is one click away. And, paradoxically, the customer may walk 50m to visit your store provided the process started online.

E-commerce is dead. It’s all about commerce

So e-commerce is dead. It’s dead as a 100% online activity that opposes to physical commerce. Now it’s about commerce and it’s obvious that digital and physical are not competing channels but complementary touchpoints. In case you need figures to be sure :

73% of customers are more likely to visit a store if they can check the product availability online vs 36% if no information is available.

61% would like to order online and collect in store. If they were able to do so, 50% would make additional purchases in the store. (Forrester)

This e-commerce losing its “e” has a name : omnichannel.

The customer chooses the journey, businesses adapt

Omnichannel is about a simple acknowledgement : the customer decides his journey. He does not enter a physical or digital funnel where everything is scripted. Between information, purchase, payment and delivery steps, he can decide to switch from a physical to a digital touchpoint.

Everybody gets it. Or almost. So it’s simple : business should use the tools that help them to better manager omnichannel relationships. In fact it’s more complicated.

Customer data is scattered like a puzzle

It’s impossible to manage the omnichannel customer without a comprehensive view of the customer and the product catalogue. As a matter of fact, the customer is “sliced” between the e-commerce site, the loyalty program, the store(s) he went to. Everybody has a little information about the customer but no one has a comprehensive view. So the customer is scattered among several “owners’, sometimes even for a single touchpoint.

Anyway. MDM should fix this. A single base with everything about customer, same for the product.

That’s where things get complicated. Who owns the data ? Why would a store – and most of all independent or franchised – share such precious data ? So businesses have a couple of questions to answer like “who owns the customer”, “what’s the difference between owning and operating data”. Nothing impossible but it won’t happen by magic.

By the way, why would I – store – play the e-commerce game ?  It’s stealing customers from me ! In fact it doesn’t but everyone must benefit from such a move. So who will get the money from the online sales ? Depending on the relationship between the brand and its retailers (fully owned, franchised etc) it’s easy to end…nowhere. At this point the brand can decide to either exclude stores from the program or wait until a consensus is reached.

And what about prices ? What price to apply online and who to benchmark against ? The online competition, of course, but what to do if the online price is not the same as the store’s one, most of all in the case of a click and collect model ? Too many stores still don’t understand that their competitors are not those in their catchment area but any online store !

The great retail armada becomes a ill-disciplined army

What is obvious is that, except in integrated and vertical models with fully owned stores, what used to look like a great armada in the physical world is becoming a ill-disciplined army when it comes to e-ecommerce.

Everybody is agrees to get the uniform and the ammunition supplies but wants to play with his own rules, what’s suicidal.

• We want to benefit from click and collect but don’t want a global return policy

• We want to benefit from the “global” maketing but retain our customer data.

• We want to compete on price but refuse to accept that the biggest competitor is online and not the store located 100m away.

E-commerce requires one thing from such networks : learning to play together, collectively and understanding that the focus on a local maximum harms the reach of a global optimum.

No matter the technology, the success of a e-commerce strategy is a matter of unified governance of prices, data and processes impacting the customer experience.

Image credit : Paolo Bona / Shutterstock.com