Like millions of other American consumers, I spent several hours in a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving.
That is the part that seems so odd. Why doesn’t e-commerce have more of a presence in the brick-and-mortar shopping world? Better yet, why are so many retailers failing to promote their Web sites in mass media?
Gap Dot What?
An item at Gap seemed an ideal gift for a relative, but it was not available in his XXL size. When I asked a salesperson if it would be possible to find the item online, she responded with a confused stare:
“Oh, I don’t know anything about that kind of stuff.”
That kind of stuff is supposed to be a significant part of Gap’s business plan these days. Why was the Web site so foreign to the sales person?
Compounding the problem, there was no handy kiosk at Gap. In fact, in the entire mall, there was no computer for customers to use, except at a computer store.
The experience at Gap is common. Unfortunately, the channels through which many companies sell their merchandise are still suffering from a case of tunnel vision.
Many Web sites say little about brick-and-mortar locations, and physical stores rarely seem to even mention Web addresses.
Gap, to its credit, has always allowed shoppers to purchase items online and return them at the mall stores. Most other retailers, however, have a division between channels as formidable as the one between church and state.
It is high time for e-tailing to raise its own profile, through multichannel marketing, in-store promotions of associated Web sites, and more interactivity among channels.
Do You Yahoo?
The more forward-thinking among online merchants have figured out the power of mass media, as it relates to their bottom lines.
Yahoo! Shopping (Nasdaq: YHOO), for example, saw fit to spend a bundle on newspaper advertising. Best Buy (NYSE: BBY), in the midst of a major brick-and-mortar expansion, prominently points to its own BestBuy.com in slick, compelling, yellow and black newspaper ads, as well as throughout its stores.
Their timing could not be better, particularly since the holiday online shopping season has begun with much fanfare.
Yahoo! Shopping projected that its day-after-Thanksgiving sales would be 60 percent higher than last year and ended up beating its own prediction. Could that have something to do with its catchy television ads and seductive print ad campaign?
However, even those Web sites that have raised their public profiles through in-store promotion and traditional advertising are missing out on some unexpected unique selling propositions.
For example, it would make sense to promote the ease with which online shoppers can ship their packages. Consumers who travel for Christmas would benefit by not having to contend with cumbersome security checkpoints through which packages must pass.
Further, the American public, in its “nesting” mode since September 11th, is primed for ad campaigns that stress the ease of online shopping in the comfort of their own homes.
The ethics of such campaigns are up for debate, but strictly from a sales standpoint, handled carefully and tastefully, such targeted ads could yield increased revenues right now.
E-tailers have learned a lot in the past few years about the importance of branding, the critical need for efficient fulfillment and shipping procedures, and the challenge of building consumer trust online.
Now it is time for them to work harder to become part of the mainstream American consumer culture. Newspaper and television ads, in-store kiosks for those with a brick-and-mortar presence, and in-store personnel with a stronger awareness of “that kind of stuff” could go a long way in capturing consumer attention.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.