Multi-channel commerce – focus on customer and data

Hayden Sutherland was involved in the early days of web development and has been pivotal in the implementation of some of the largest and most highly regarded sites on the internet.

His expertise covers online projects for organisations such as Nestlé, RBS, The Metropolitan Police and Philips and he has previously held senior roles such as Head of e-Business for P&O Ferries, Head of Project Management for a Top 10 Global Digital Agency and Technical Director at several online businesses. He has also won several awards including the British Interactive Media Association award for best financial services website.

For the last five years he has run Ideal Interface, an eCommerce and Digital Marketing consultancy based in Scotland. Although predominantly consulting in the retail sector (River Island, AllSaints Clothing, Sainsbury’s, etc.) the company has now built up a number of clients in the financial services, travel & tourism and other vertical markets.

He can usually be found Tweeting about anything from Social Media, eCommerce and multi-channel attribution through to reality TV contestants and the weather in Glasgow @haydens30

I was recently asked for a ‘state of the nation’ comment on the main issues around modern multi-channel commerce. My reply… “It is complex”.

Now this may be a little too simplistic, but it sums up the problem I see that a lot of businesses are having around the topic of e-commerce and multi-channel retailing right now… that the whole area is both wide in scope and deep in detail. So much so that it’s quite bewildering to those who don’t live and breathe it every day.

It’s not just about having a beautiful website or a funky iPhone application; it also involves technical and business areas such as: online security, business process analysis, fulfilment capacity planning etc.

But taking all that to one side, there are still a couple of key areas that organisations usually stumble on and need to get right first of all:

1. The customer

As was stated by Caroline Rolfe, Belstaff’s director of ecommerce, at the The Drum's Digital Convergence conference earlier in 2013, you need to put the customer at the heart of your multi-channel processes and take every consumer touch point into consideration.

In my opinion, all too often companies launch different creative and functionality on different channels (for both communication and transaction purposes), with no overall understanding or consideration of the multi-channel customer’s actual needs.

The cause of this muddle can include:

a. Having differing commissioning responsibility (or ownership) of each channel

b. Inconsistent (or non-existent) brand guidelines for modern digital channels

c. The use of different resources in delivering these initiatives

2. The data

Behind that slick responsive design interface you’ve just created and amongst all those virtual wires that have been coded, lies the database (or databases) that supports your multi-channel e-commerce system. From product information through to records of every customer purchase, your data holds so much more than simple bits & bytes, it holds the key to what has gone on across your site.

Integration of this data with your other applications (eg analytics, fulfilment providers, email service provider, automated product recommendations tools, etc) may seem a difficult challenge at first, but the benefits in future cost and time-saving should make this a highly worthwhile stepping-stone for the future.

Hopefully, by understanding, managing and building upon these key areas, you will then have two building blocks upon which to develop an optimised and less complex online and offline retail service.

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