Holistic view still work in progress for retailers

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This was a year of learning, as retailers began to master making all those channels work effectively, said Phil Donahue, vice president of strategic accounts and development at Catalogs by Lorel, King of Prussia, PA.

However, many still don't take a holistic view of their marketing expenditures since "data quality varies by channel" and "internal issues" are still a concern, Mr. Donahue said.

"How to measure and optimize the marketing spend across channels is the biggest challenge ahead for multichannel marketers," said Jeff Haggin, president/CEO of Haggin Marketing Inc., San Francisco.

Cost pressures will force merchants to focus more on their house files in the year ahead.

"Cross-channel promotion opportunities exist in many house files," Mr. Donahue said.

One new cross-channel activity that should pick up steam next year is the practice of driving customers from the printed page to a specific online page, or vanity URL, containing information about the product they're interested in instead of a generic home page, Mr. Haggin said.

"I'm starting to see multichannel merchants view the catalog as setting up the proposition and recognizing that the consumer wants to, on his or her own terms, consummate the order online," he said. "That's the most profound thing I see changing."

It's all about the customer, as another marketer explained.

"The biggest point of difference between multichannel retailers is always the customer experience," said Monica C. Smith, president/CEO of Marketsmith Inc., a Montclair, NJ, multichannel marketing agency.

Those who understand this and take appropriate measures when the backlash on the outsourcing of customer service responsibilities to other countries comes next year will see retention increase, Ms. Smith said.

"Those who think that outsourcing is important or aren't monitoring the situation, will see a continuous decrease in retention," she said.

E-mail marketing represents another important opportunity for multichannel merchants to improve the customer experience.

"By the end of 2007, any company that hasn't designed e-mail messaging to fit the customer based on data they have has really missed the boat in terms of the next level of marketing," Ms. Smith said.

Search is still another area where retailers stand to win by improving the customer experience, Mr. Donahue said.

By leveraging "new technologies that allow customers to perform advance searches, it results in a more focused and satisfying browsing experience," he said.

More than ever, being able to take a step back and view marketing expenditures as well as the customer experience from a cross-channel perspective will be the mark of a successful multichannel retailer next year.

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