Multichannel Marketing is Key, Says Shop.org

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Online retail association Shop.org says that multichannel marketing is a key component in retail as the holiday season approaches.

One point addressed in the organization's media call Aug. 25 about the current climate is the shift in power that retailers face now that consumers have taken control with user created content like product reviews and blogs.

"It used to be that some retailers like Amazon and eBags would offer a space for product reviews, but now it is a must," said Joan Broughton, vice president of Shop.org.

Scott Silverman, executive director for Shop.org, agreed and said that even though they can be a brand killer, blogs and product reviews offer a good way for consumers to communicate and for retailers and manufacturers to listen.

Another key point is that Web-to-store traffic is a big business. Circuit City gets 50 percent of its customers visiting its Web site before coming into its store, Mr. Silverman said. The electronics retailer has also seen a lot of traffic to the store for online returns, which results in new sales.

The Web site not only works in concert with stores, but also with catalogs. Mr. Silverman said that catalogs are evolving and that there is often a spike in online sales just after a catalog drops.

Mr. Silverman suggested RSS and live chats as e-mail alternatives. For example, REI used live chats to answer questions about specific product information and to share experiences about sleeping bags.

The Internet also lets small retailers have a shot at a wider audience. But because sophistication on the Web is competitive, retailers must pay attention to Web design and user ability, Mr. Silverman said.

The future holds many new technological developments for retailers, including the ability to literally window-shop online by touching a screen to buy an item.

Mobile is also a big area for development.

"Mobile phones are the topic of a lot of conversation with a text-to-buy feature,"  Ms. Broughton said. "You could see an advertisement in a magazine with a short list of numbers next to it and then send a text to that number to be able to buy that item."

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