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Eight ways to create a marketer's field of dreams

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3rd Oct 2007
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"If you build it, they will come" - the right website can create more loyal, valuable customers. W. Kimathi Marangu provides eight tips to help your website strengthen customer ties to your organisation.

photo of baseball

By W. Kimathi Marangu, Mall Networks, Inc.

In the 1980s, the popular sports movie Field of Dreams told the story of an Iowa farmer who carved a baseball field into his cornfields that attracted members of the Chicago White Sox, including the legendary “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. The film was famous for the quote: “if you build it, they will come.”

Now, fast forward a couple of decades and change the venue from an Iowa cornfield to the internet and the pastime from baseball to online shopping. It would be tempting for marketers – whether they have built an e-commerce component to their website or constructed an online mall – to apply a similar logic: “If you build it, they will come, they will stay, they will spend and they will return.”

After all, online commerce clearly continues to explode - a Forrester Research/Shop.org study reported that 2006 online sales increased 20 percent to $211.4 billion. Despite these frothy sales projections, the truth is that from a functional and ease-of-use perspective, all e-commerce websites are not created equal. At the same time, overall satisfaction with online shopping experiences and credit card security trust is declining.

"Marketers must ignore the temptation to adopt a promotion-only strategy and truly build trust and loyalty with online shoppers."

So what does this mean for marketers and how can they combat these two trends?

For starters, marketers must ignore the temptation to adopt a promotion-only strategy and truly build trust and loyalty with online shoppers. They'll accomplish this by touting their safe online shopping experiences, focusing loyalty programs on rewarding word-of-mouth behavior, creating segmented and audience appropriate online store offerings, offering the most compelling awards benefits and in sum, creating the best possible online shopping experience.

One of the most effective vehicles for accomplishing these objectives has proven to be an optimised and customised online mall featuring merchant-funded rewards programs. For marketers in virtually every industry – from airlines to banks to professional sports teams, as well as membership organisations of all types, online malls offer a significant revenue generation and loyalty opportunity by allowing customers to access a private label online mall where they can earn bonus rebates.

But from your most important constituency’s perspective – the consumer – what defines an optimised online mall experience that will drive repeat purchases and build long-term loyalty to your brand, your product and your service?

Key considerations

Whether you are a marketer for a large, small or medium-sized organisation, the top considerations when creating or evaluating an online mall platform will apply. Here is a list of these considerations which can often be the difference between an optimal and a forgettable experience:

1) Personalisation and customisation are the top of any consumer’s wish list. Personalised recommendations encourage repeat use of the mall by bringing customers’ most relevant merchants within easy reach, and suggesting additional merchants of value to them. To encourage participation and promote special deals, an online mall must allow merchants to communicate with customers via personalised multi-channel marketing programs. The right platform will integrate with the company’s existing e-mail system to enable easy and frequent communications with shoppers. Additionally, without sharing PII, the portal should recognise the customer each time they log on and present them with offers specifically targeted to them based on past purchases.

"To encourage participation and promote special deals, it’s important to communicate with customers via personalised multi-channel marketing programs."

2) “Look and feel” is a second imperative. A clean and attractive design makes it easy for customers to access and navigate through. A superior online mall will create an enticing and intuitive user experience that quickly guides customers through the portal into a well-planned mall environment. Consumers must be able to see merchants in a clean, uncluttered fashion and must have multiple paths to find a given merchant (ie search box, navigate by category, and alphabetical listing).

3) Variety. No shopper likes to wait – whether they are in a line or online. A first-rate online mall saves the consumer time and maximises ways to earn rebates by offering a comprehensive range of merchants. Be selective and limit the merchant offering to the best in every major category so that your brand is not diluted by many unknown or poor reputation merchants.

4) Promote the site. To encourage participation and promote special deals, it’s important to communicate with customers via personalised multi-channel marketing programs. The right platform will integrate with existing email systems to enable easy and frequent communications with shoppers.

5) Back-end accounting is essential to keeping the customer informed of his or her purchases and rebate status. It is critical to have a flawless back-end accounting system to match purchases with rebates or points, and to ensure that rebates are allocated precisely.

7) Leave it to the experts. While some institutions may be tempted to try implementing their own mall, a trusted partner who has designed and implemented online malls previously will maximise your mall’s potential. Choose a platform that can not only be customised and integrated seamlessly into existing systems, but also offers added capabilities like e-mail integration, back end accounting and reporting tools.

8) Frequently update the site. Like any other website, the mall’s content should constantly be changed and offers updates to keep the site fresh and relevant to site visitors. Consider seasonal offers or a “special deals” section to encourage purchasing. Many providers will take care of this as a part of the package.

Whether you are a loyalty and awards program manager for a bank, airline, club, organisation or non-profit, private label online shopping portals offer a way for your members to shop easily and securely at hundreds of name-brand sites through a single point of entry – your website. With the best technical platform, financial systems and mix of merchants as part of your online network granting awards, bonuses and rebate points for purchases, customers and members can shop at the stores they know, love and trust, while earning extra points and strengthening their ties to your organisation.

W. Kimathi Marangu is executive vice president of business development for Mall Networks, Inc.

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