Customer input is becoming part of the development cycle, according to industry bigs at the Retail Systems 2006 conference.
Posted May 22, 2006
Retailers are giving customers more ability to input information about and to gain control of their retail choices as the Web evolves. Those businesses are achieving superior sales results, according to Andreas Weigend, principal of Weigend.com and former chief scientist of Amazon.com. He told attendees at the Retail Systems 2006 Conference & Exposition in Chicago Monday that they are "helping your customers help you. At one time the Web was like [a pyramid]: A company came up with an idea or product, then pushed it out to the customers. Now, the Web has been turned upside down and customers are part of the design of what companies produce for [them]."
Retailers aren't just using surveys and emails to develop products and to cross-sell new and existing customers, Weigend continued. Firms are also using indirect information provided via blogs (not necessarily company-sponsored ones), search engine information, and other outside data to help drive product and service development. Blogs, the number of which now exceeds 14 million, are becoming an increasingly important "voice of the customer" resource, Weigend said.
Companies are even finding that including negative blogs on the company's own site (i.e., ABC Company stinks) helps increase credibility and aids in both the actual handling of customer issues and the perception of handling customer issues, says Ramit Sethi, cofounder and vice president of marketing for Pbwiki. If a company doesn't provide this on its own site, a search engine will invariably have such a negative site as one of its top five hits, Sethi says.
Additionally, a company's Web site is no longer limited to www.abc-company.com, at least in the customer's mind. Today's customers consider the entire Web, particularly search engines and global communities as a company's extended Web site. Customers are no longer simply searching for products like cameras, says Steven Lavine, CEO of Transparensee Systems, one of the copanelists with Weigend who discussed the evolving Web. They now refine their search by looking for certain features (i.e., minimum megapixels and price), so firms like Transparensee provide online tools to show customers how nearly a product meets their desires. If a customer wants a $400 camera with 6.1 megapixels, for example, the tools show a sliding scale of how close a particular product comes to each selected parameter.
This also enables a customer to choose a product by changing the priority of multiple parameters--for example, increasing the importance of megapixels and decreasing the importance of price. Google Maps is a similar example of this type of technology. In this way, companies are expanding on the idea that "customers who bought product A also bought product B," said Manish Chandra, CEO of Kaboodle.com. "They are telling customers that this type of sofa goes well in a modern, contemporary living room or that teenagers with iPods prefer this type of accessory."
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