The E-Commerce Effect

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While my last few columns have focused on the role of social CRM, I want to shift direction and share how e-commerce is changing the CRM landscape.

Broadly defined, e-commerce is the buying and selling of products or services over electronic systems, including pre- and post-sales activities. While more than $2.5 trillion of manufacturing sales are made via e-commerce, more important is the fact that customers have come to expect it.

More than 90 percent of the Generation Y demographic goes online first to research desired products or services, and 50 percent purchase online. Best-in-class e-commerce companies, like Amazon, have set the standard that all online shoppers expect, whether they are shopping for simple consumer goods or complex business products.

There are three e-commerce models: B2B, B2C, and B2B2C. All three models can benefit from mastering Amazon's best-in-class e-commerce practices. Amazon's corporate strategy is e-commerce. Its bold mission statement reads, "We seek to be Earth's most customer-centric company for four primary customer sets: consumers, sellers, enterprises, and content creators." To achieve this, Amazon has implemented multiple best-in-class capabilities. It has user-friendly, efficient navigation and superior on-site search capability; it has mastered search optimization, leading to more traffic coming to the site; it sends effective targeted emails to active visitors; it has a mobile Web site to reach customers who may be researching products in-store; and it is known as a leader in Web site personalization (offering relevant messages based on product, geography, purchase history, and more).

Companies are turning to e-commerce as an increasingly viable sales, marketing, and servicing channel. Properly implemented, e-commerce leads to operational efficiency and lower costs, generates demand that drives incremental revenue, and retains customers. Simply said, e-commerce has become an indispensable part of a successful distribution channel strategy.

A Changing Landscape

A certain segment of buyers prefers e-commerce to other shopping options. These buyers grew up using Amazon, Zappos, and other e-commerce leaders. They expect instant access to information about your products and services, your pricing, your inventory, etc.

To achieve the biggest impact, you need to determine the technographic profile—a person's personality or characteristics when it comes to social media—of your customer/prospect base, and promote your offering to this segment first. E-commerce will likely become the preferred way of doing business for more of your customers, becoming a competitive advantage impacting customer satisfaction, retention, and advocacy.

Your e-commerce channel will also become one of your lowest "cost-to-serve" channels, since your buyers and prospects will be doing much of the legwork as they self-serve on your e-commerce site. E-commerce can produce a win-win for all parties, and enhance your customer relationship efforts.

More CRM packages offer a comprehensive e-commerce capability, and many e-commerce vendors are seamlessly integrating with CRM vendor software offerings in five areas:

  • demand generation (SEO/SEM, email marketing, digital ads, offer management, social media);
  • content management (online catalogs, digital assets like brochures, electronic data exchange);
  • sales/order management (shopping cart, inventory status, order and back-order management);
  • support (inbound emails, customer feedback requests, online chat), back-end integration (inventory, shipping); and
  • analytics (campaign analytics, Web analytics).

If you haven't created an e-commerce strategy, consider reaching out to an industry expert to help you start. If you already have a strategy in place, ask your CRM vendor about their newest capabilities so you can determine their potential value-add to your strategy.

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM Inc., a consulting firm that applies CRM, social CRM, and social media to successful customer-centric business strategies. He is the publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation (17th edition) and author of CRM in Real Time: Empowering Customer Relationships (Information Today Inc.).

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