It’s a mystery to me why so many organisations simply fail to use their internet presence to encourage user loyalty and interest in shopping at their stores. When you think about why people might actually go to a retail store site online, it’s normally because they want to see a product range and check if their local store has stock of whatever it is they want. They don’t want to go to a site and see useless high-bandwidth flash images and the kind of advertising they can get on television.
It seems that organisations are still very stupid when it comes to knowledge management. Inventory control they understand for supply chain management. But customer satisfaction is something that they simply don’t understand – at least beyond interpersonal communication at a retail outlet in the real world.
There are a few organisations that have “got it right”, although the effectiveness of some websites is still questionable. Any organisation that retains a product catalogue online – even if they don’t choose to sell those products online – has at least understood the fact that people who access their website through the internet are looking for *something*, and they are not just idly browsing as they might do around a store. While it’s good to have prices available online as a point of comparison, if organisations are concerned about compromising competitive advantage, then they should at least link their inventory control management software to catalogues online. If customers can find out where the closest goods are available, they are in fact more likely to develop loyalty to a retail chain than if the goods are constantly cheaper than elsewhere. In spite of concerns to the contrary, people looking around to buy goods online rarely seek out more than two or three sites for the purpose of price comparison. In fact, in the survey conducted in 2003 by Taylor Nelson Sofres, it was found that the vast majority of internet shoppers bought from the first site where they found the goods they had been seeking, rather than practising price comparison.
Yet still so many organisations merely put corporate and advertising materials on their sites rather than a decent product catalogue, linked with stock inventory and availability. Sadly, these organisations seem to have missed the fact that the internet is about information. Even sadder, getting most inventory management software to spit out products and information on product availability according to location is probably one of the simplest systems to set up. Most of these databases can output XML copy for specified fields with the greatest of ease.
What a waste of data. Inventory software might be being used effectively for stock control, but in the age of the internet, competitive advantage is all about repacking the information you have to empower your customers. Unfortunately, until organisations recognise this fact en masse, most internet marketing will still be restricted to so many bells and whistles.