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.