EDITORIAL: Where Are the Fundamentals?

There should be a Vince Lombardi school for Internet marketing. The legendary Green Bay Packers coach reportedly began each season stressing the fundamentals of the game: “This is a football. This is how you throw a football.”

OK, maybe he didn’t say exactly that, but it suits the purposes of this editorial.

September’s here, which means it’s time to get ready for serious selling, and from this vantage, it seems that where most e-commerce ventures blow it is in failing to recognize many of the fundamentals of distance selling.

The most recent example is DotJunction (//www.dmnews.com/articles/2000-08-28/10258.html), a company that plans to open as many as 500 mall locations with computer screens on which consumers will be expected to place orders with the firm’s as-yet-unnamed partners. The venture’s goal is admirable — getting consumers comfortable shopping online — but these are mall shoppers, not necessarily mail-order buyers. And even if they are comfortable making remote purchases, they certainly aren’t in mail-order mode after having driven to the mall.

DotJunction certainly has challenges ahead.

Meanwhile, news from trade group Shop.org (//www.dmnews.com/articles/2000-09-04/10245.html) indicates we’ve still got that same old nagging arithmetic problem. Customer acquisition costs are too high. Also, given much of e-retailing’s market-share-now-so-any-customer-will-do mentality, it’s also a safe bet that average order sizes, margins and conversion-to-sale rates are still too low.

Sure, Shop.org’s findings released last week showing that second-quarter acquisition costs were down $5, to $40, are promising, but that number is still not low enough. The typical acquisition cost consumer catalogers shoot for — understanding that it’s a relative figure — is $15. The survey also was only of 66 companies, making one wonder how representative the figure is.

Too many Internet marketers fail to employ the most basic direct marketing tactics. I can’t tell you how many packages I’ve received from Internet companies with no follow-up promotional material in the box.

Any old-salt cataloger knows that the time to go for the next sale is just as the current one’s delivered. The recipient is excited about his purchase and hopefully has a great feeling about the company behind it. And the sooner customers buy again, the more likely they are to buy still again. So hit ’em now.

And how many Internet retailers encourage phone ordering? Hell, how many sites put their phone numbers where they can even be found?

Here’s a hot tip: Once customers and prospects are on the phone, you can upsell and cross-sell them. But they have to be able to find the phone number first.

The latest Internet marketing philosophy — another in a series driven by Wall Street — apparently is multichannel selling.

It doesn’t matter whether the channels complement one another, as with television shopping company QVC and its online arm, iQVC. Everyone just wants to be able to say, “We’re not a dot-com.” Fine, but some thought as to the habits and preferences of the target audience would be nice.

That many Internet retailers fail to employ even the most basic tactics makes this editor — admittedly an outside observer — wonder what else they’re missing. These are probably the same companies that say proudly, “We’ll only make offers on things the consumer is interested in” — still another Internet marketing concept that dismisses a direct selling fundamental.

People don’t know what they’re interested in. And until some dot-commer proves otherwise, the best way — and in my mind the only way — to know what someone will buy is to know what he has bought.

True, old-school catalogers aren’t shaking up the Internet the way many predicted, but many of their tactics certainly apply online. This fall, Internet marketers must place new focus on the fundamentals. Then much of the rest will certainly fall into place.

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