[CA Catalyst] Top sellers upbeat despite recession

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One of the best sessions I’ve been to at Catalyst today was a panel of four of the UK’s top online retailers talking about their businesses. Dan Lumb from Schuh, Peter Lilley from TrueShopping, Andrew Redstone from CyberCheckout and Richard A from Plumbworld were all confident that business in the near future could thrive despite the recession. And all four said that eBay was an important marketing channel for them, though in every case, one amongst many.

Key to surviving the economic downturn is focusing marketing efforts on what works: ROI is king, and “brand awareness” name marketing is out. Merchants need to measure conversion, not just traffic: too often we only look at traffic to our landing pages, and forget to consider what that traffic does after it arrives on our site. The most effective marketing campaign in the world can be derailed by a site that’s difficult to use or distracts buyers from what you’ve brought them there to do. It is, in Dan Lumb’s unforgettable phrase, about “getting, keeping and squeezing” your customers: holding their attention and getting them to come back after they’ve bought the first time.

In response to a question about whether customer feedback and product reviews should be included on websites, all four panellists agreed that product reviews should be an essential part of any ecommerce site, though they offered an intriguingly varied set of reasons for this opinion. Customer reviews not only improve conversion rates and improve SEO, they help with sourcing strategy, and bad reviews seem to reduce returns rates: potential buyers get a useful opinion before they buy, and so can choose something else. Site owners are advised not to over-moderate reviews; a mix of positive and negative is more authentic and therefore more trustworthy.

Some comments are worth recording in full. Asked about using social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and Twitter in marketing, Dan Lumb said

We’re on all of those – nada, nothing. When people are on Facebook, they don’t want companies; they’re on Facebook to share pictures with their friends. … We’re on Twitter. What do you Twitter about? … I personally think it’s a dangerous game. Do you give them discounts to be your friends? I don’t know.

Andrew Redstone was more enthusiastic: “it’s about understanding where the customer’s coming from”. But clearly those of us who believe these sites can be good both for business and for the consumer, have more work to do.

All the panellists agreed, though, that email marketing is currently under-utilised, and should form a stronger part of their strategy. Andrew said that email should be segmented, targetted and add value: in other words, a catch-all strategy doesn’t work, you need to tailor a variety of emails to your individual customers. Forget about the hard-sell: your emails need to have value to the customers opening them.

This was one of the most interesting sessions of the day, and I only wish it had been longer.

11 Responses

  1. Interesting piece but “Four of the UK’s top online retailers”, I don’t think so.

  2. Jimbo i second that…to be fair Dan Lumb from Schuh, Peter Lilley from TrueShopping and Richard A from Plumbworld all have massive companies and eBay only accounts for a marginal percentage of their total sales. Andrew Redstone bought cyber checkout 1 year ago (his words) and suddenly was the Patrik Moore aka GamesMaster of online selling. I think he strapped on the rocket pack and went for the moon a bit with what he was saying….

  3. i was there and was very encouraged by what these guys had to say. Also, some of their points i think were really worth taking on board.

    1. Concentrate more on Email marketing
    2. Include Customer Product reviews
    3. Forget Facebook and the like

    That what we took out of it anyway…

  4. Yep, I think some points are worth reading:

    1. ROI is king, and “brand awareness” name marketing is out.
    –In recession, buyers become more price sensitive.

    2. “getting, keeping and squeezing” your customers: holding their attention and getting them to come back after they’ve bought the first time.
    –Before your marketing activities, make sure the UI & UE of your site is ok at least. Otherwise, your investment into ads, cps, EDM, etc. would be in vain. As a result, end with a terrible ROI.

    3. a mix of positive and negative is more authentic and therefore more trustworthy.
    –That’s what Amazon has been doing.

    4. email marketing should form a stronger part of their strategy.
    –Comparing with other methods, EDM may be the lower in cost but higher in return marketing method. I just managed to persuade my boss to try it. 😎

  5. I wonder where the figures and perception that email marketing is good comes from
    as a buyer email marketing drives me nuts and drives me away,
    if I buy something I dont want to be harassed and badgered by email for the next decade

  6. @7
    EDM should be different with SPAM.

    The standard EDM is that you could choose to receive or not, and you could unsubscribe anytime you want to.

  7. Some thoughts:

    email marketing works whe certain formats are followed – I get 12 to 17% of repeat business within 1 month of initial buy from my 1st time buyers who sign up. I have some sophistocated software that I use and small cash incentives. I do agree that badly targeted spam mail is totally useless, but where buyers buy into information, its works. 7 yrs of marketing experience gives me some authority to say this. Some people hate any contact, but one has to ask whether thats because they have had a bad experience, are one-off buyers or are the sort of people who moan over everything and anything and then like to tell everybody about it 😉

    Facebook – forget it as a marketing tool. ROI is not gr8. Organic/natural search is the way forward and maximising that

    I was looking forward to pixmania’s presentation at the event, but they came across as not really knowing whether the site worked or not for 3rd parties, and when it would be robust..I think a site for the future. A bit harsh, but presentation skills were sadly lacking of both content, enthusiasm and real world examples.

  8. I’m quite happy to receive email marketing when I’ve chosen to subscribe. What I do have (and instantly unsubscribe from) is a company like the venerable Amazon who’s email marketing was sparse enough to be interesting and suddenly turned into a weekly deluge of offers which were frankly untargetted and uninteresting.

    Too much is worse than none at all in my opinion, the exception being when it’s full of up to date information that I’m interested in and not as Amazons was – simply a plug for the products they wanted to shift.

  9. 40 years of buying experience gives me the authority to say that junk mail of any form
    is normally counter productive.
    and often gives a pikey impression



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