Holiday CRM Click and mortar is key to survival, says expert

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This year has been touted as the defining year for many online retailers. Is it possible for them to survive the demands of the season and ensure that their customers are satisfied?

Emerging as the sweet-smelling roses of online retailing will be click-and-mortar retailers, because they are a combination of traditional retailing with an offline presence and e-tailing, according to Alex Black, managing director, CustomerConnect Practice, Computer Sciences Corporation. With the exception of retailers like Amazon.com, Inc. and eBay, Inc., the rest of the e-tailers will fall by the wayside, Black predicted.

"The initial infatuation [with online retailing] is over," he said. And few e-tailers are prepared to have a store and Web catalog, complete with a customer database and an analysis of customer purchases.

"Pure plays are almost gone. Amazon will make it because they do a lot of the right things for customers," Black said. Amazon keeps a lot of information on their customers and performs analytics on it, in addition to proving opt-in e-mail lists, which makes it easier for the company to target offers to their customers.

However, Amazon's success may be due to their merchandise, as people are more likely to buy books and CDs online. "Other products aren't as easy to buy in cyberspace," Black said. Those retailers "will only survive through click and mortar." He cited Toys 'R Us, CompUSA, Best Buy and Nordstrom's as some retailers that are on the right track, as they allow returns whether from an online purchase or in-store purchase at all their physical stores.

Traditional retailers "haven't been the fastest to market," Black said. "That's hard work to get the legacy systems with the customer information to work in concert with a Web site."

Businesses need to be multi-channel, according to Black. The purely online businesses that don't have an offline presence need to partner with a traditional retailer. "Offer the customer the experience of either; put in the right systems processes; pay close attention to the content delivered to the site," he advised.

Meanwhile, catalog retailers traditionally haven't had many physical stores, but lately some of them are offering some sort of store location, such as Lands End and J. Crew, Black said. Williams-Sonoma is another example of a catalog retailer that has made strong forays into the world of clicks and mortar, he added.

An ideal CRM system would include several main components, including an e-mail system, a personalization engine and a database, Black said. For e-mail, Black recommended Kana's products, which also support call center activity.

"Broadvision is an example of a leading personalization engine in commerce and content," he said. Through Broadvision's products, companies can handle transactions, create track records with the site, and can integrate external data for up selling and cross-selling purposes.

Siebel, on the other hand, is a good example of a company that started with sales force automation and call center products, which then moved into Web-based software, Black said. "They came out of CRM before CRM became the e-CRM world," he added. Siebel's products work well on the customer touch point side.

Meanwhile, Oracle has a broad footprint and is good for overall CRM on the database angle.

But the bottom line is that companies that will succeed in their CRM and business endeavors will use the solutions that handle their customers the best, Black said. These companies "are the clear winners in the CRM landscape."

For more information, visit Computer Sciences Corporation's Web site.

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