E-Commerce Gets Smarter

Technology Review writes:

The business jargon for this model of integrated retail sales is multichannelingthat is, fusing digital services with in-store, mail-order, and telephone sales, and with any other retail channels. The digerati have called it clicks and mortar since the Internet boom of the 1990s. No matter the term, it is now the driving force in retail. For while the Internet works fine for some types of goodssuch as books, computer products, and musicmany shoppers dont want to purchase and pay shipping costs for things like canoes, cars, clothes, and entertainment systems without trying them out, trying them on, touching them, or maybe even talking to a knowledgeable salesperson.

New technologies and ideas are allowing retailers to remove the wall between online shopping and in-store shopping, and to make the gathering of customer data both easier and more valuable. Advanced data-mining and Web analytics techniques now examine not just what you bought online but what you viewed, helping retailers design promotions that will entice you to shop online and in stores. These enticements will themselves arrive over multiple channelsthrough magazines, regular mail, e-mail, the Web, and wireless transmissions to your car or shopping cart. By looking at just a few of a customers purchases, a retailer will even be able to predict how much shell spend over her lifetime, and adjust the deals and promotions it offers her accordingly.

The ultimate goal is more-customized, personal service. The best retailers have always striven to provide the most-tailored service possible; however, as more and more retailers expand nationally and even internationally, building close relationships with customers is increasingly difficult. Retailers cant do that now because they have millions of customers all over the country, says Dan Hopping, senior consulting manager for IBMs Retail Store Solutions Division. So they use technology to make the connection.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.