Integrate Online Efforts With Print

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The Internet requires you to develop your online strategy to integrate with your print efforts. If you fail to do so, you will lose important synergy in both arenas.


Integrate current catalog processes. When developing your online catalog, you need to build in the same processes that are in place for your current print catalog. You should consider the outward appearance and usability of the catalog from your customers' perspective, along with how it will function with your current inhouse systems and procedures.


Your customers' perspective. The home page of your online catalog should be attractive and invite customers to explore - and buy - more. If you have a print catalog, your home page should have a similar look and feel. It must be simple to use and easy for shoppers to find the products they seek. You should establish sections or categories on this page so customers can easily go to the product areas in which they are interested.


Once shoppers are in, it is important that the products are attractively displayed. The display should include a product shot (photograph or sketch) and a detailed product description that includes features, benefits, size, weight, color, etc. One advantage of an online catalog is that it doesn't limit space for your photograph and descriptions.


Attention spans are shorter when viewing hypertext than when reading printed words. People tend to scan documents for pertinent information, as opposed to reading information verbatim. Therefore, formatting, font size and style, as well as content, are important.


You also want reference points on your catalog pages so customers know where they are and can easily move to other products or categories. For example, these reference points let a shopper know that he is in the children's books area of the catalog and that he can search further in this section or back out to another area.


It is important to provide customers with a shopping basket so they can add items to purchase as they go through the catalog. They should be able to view their shopping basket at any time in order to add or delete items.


When a shopper wants to check out, he should be shown a tally of his purchases and shipping options. At that time, the customer also should be informed if any of his selections are out of stock or back-ordered. His final bill should include any applicable taxes and shipping charges. Since many consumers are still uncomfortable with submitting credit card information online, you can give shoppers the options of printing a faxable order form or printing an order and calling it in to a customer service representative at a toll-free number.


Integrate with your current systems and procedures. It is important that the online system meshes with your inhouse computer systems. This will allow real-time inventory levels, resulting in better customer satisfaction due to better information flow to the shopper. If an item is out of stock, a customer can be given the option of ordering the back-ordered item or substituting a similar item. You also have the ability to feature items online that are slow movers through traditional channels - print catalogs - in order to reduce inventory levels.


The ability to feed information into your online system from your inhouse systems eliminates the cost of maintaining multiple systems and reduces the chance of costly inventory, accounting and pricing errors.


You can learn more about your shoppers' buying behavior. A good e-commerce system will allow you to track and analyze customers' shopping habits, both individually and collectively. This knowledge lets you make necessary changes to your offering quickly and inexpensively. It is no longer necessary to wait until your next print catalog release to change price, order quantities or even where an item appears in the catalog. Much of the learning experience you gain through your online efforts can translate to your print catalog as well.


Here are key questions when formulating your online strategy:


• How often do you drop print catalogs and online catalogs?


• What is a realistic development cycle for your online catalog?


• Will you establish different inventory rules for online vs. print?


• Will your pricing strategy be different?


• Do you have a method to track new online customers vs. existing customers who merely change their order methods?


• Is the e-mail marketing support informational or offer-based?


While there are unique benefits of an


e-commerce site, a well-conceived strategy will allow you to integrate your print and online catalog efforts and take advantage of the benefits that both offer.
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