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Online technologies conference helps industry move ahead on internet

 

 

 

Chicago - Online technologies are shaping the future of the business world, and the most successful companies now are finding ways to leverage the new tools available to them.

 

The first Sandow Media Online Technologies Conference, held at Chicago's Merchandise Mart in November, sought to explain some of those tools and why companies need to aggressively enter the digital space to lay the groundwork for long-term success.

"Technology and its impact on the way we do business are accelerating," said Penny Schneck, online manager for the Furniture Today Retail Group of publications. "Just when you think you've got your Internet program all set, some new technology emerges. What's the next big thing? Will it be a fad or a game-changer? And how applicable is it to our businesses?"

The day-long event, attended by more than 100 representatives from all areas of the gift and home furnishings universe, was designed to answer some of those questions.

Comscore kicked off the day with a session on the State of Home Furnishings Online.

Next up was Mark Grodin, senior vp of Shopatron, who spoke about in-store pickup as the future for e-commerce.

Grodin said that selling online, but offering in-store pickup, avoids shipping costs, leads to add-on sales and closes a sale before a shopper can get distracted. He said many key retailers use in-store pickup, with Circuit City being the first to offer the service broadly.

Now, he said, 30 percent of Wal-Mart, 40 percent of REI and 77 percent of Ace Hardware online orders are picked up in-store. At Wal-Mart, 60 percent of those lead to add-on sales, averaging $60 each.

He also said that 37 percent of American online consumers have used in-store pickup, and the trend toward immediate order-fulfillment is demonstrated by Amazon.com now offering same-day service in seven cities. Using in-store pickup also can solve some of the issues with online purchasing: legal, shipping, security and installation, he said.

Grodin's presentation was followed by a panel discussion: What Works Online. Speakers were Irene Jeremic, president and CEO of The Tableau; Ron Goswell, CEO of Ayr1; and Robert Williams, director of fun/marketing/ecommerce/social media for Texas retailer Gallery Furniture.

Williams said Gallery Furniture has found success by trying new things in the digital world. "It's not always easy to determine the return on investment, but you have to be there," he said.

Gallery uses scannable QR tags on every piece of merchandise, so a customer or sales rep can immediately access more information about a piece of furniture. The retailer also actively uses social media, with nearly 7,000 fans on Facebook. It has built its online following through creative contests, including one in November to outfit teachers' lounges at area schools that get the most votes on the company's profile page.

"Mobile technology, social media, your website ... it all gives you the opportunity to go out and reach people as never before," he said. "You may not like it, you may not use it yourself ... but you have to go where your customers are."

Which is exactly the point made by Ayr1's Goswell, who said that most personal online shopping happens between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. -- when most brick-and-mortar stores are closed.

"Every morning, long before you open your stores, America has been surfing and shopping," he said. Retailers need to operate their online business with that in mind - e-commerce sites are different businesses and need to be treated as such.

Adam Schrier, executive director of sales, marketing and business development for Whereoware, shared the Five Secrets to Sell More with Targeted Marketing.

Schrier made the point that for an online message to be most effective, it needs to be targeted to a specific reader.
"Don't send 10,000 emails," he said. "Send 2,000 to the people who want to get them."

His five "secrets" or steps to marketing success are: Profile, segment, target, measure and adjust.

An example of effective targeted marketing: Contacting customers who abandoned online shopping carts. Schrier said 69 percent of these shoppers will open the reminder email if you send it to them. Many of those will go on to purchase the cart items, especially if you offer them a discount or free shipping at that point.

The next session - The Digital Media Landscape - was led by Matthew Klein, co-founder and CEO of online ad agency Fuor Digital. He shared new technologies and some of the marketing campaigns made possible by implementing them.

The most important thing to remember with online marketing, he said, is to be everywhere and offer a complementary message across platforms and media.

"A Facebook campaign, display ads, Google Ad Words ... everything works together," he said. "There is no silver bullet when it comes to digital marketing."

He said that because television is a marketers "holy grail," web advertisers can ease their way in by creating web videos, noting that there were 1.5 times more video views online in the month of September than there were online searches.

Sponsors for the event were Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., Whereoware, Shopatron, Ayr1, Snapretail and Myriad Software.

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