Practical Ecommerce

Are we essential to our customers?

A few weeks ago I was at a local Wichita, Kansas Chamber of Commerce mixer. I hadn’t been to one in many years. But I decided to join the chamber to see if I could help some members and, also, find ways to grow our business.

I’ve never been good at networking. I’m not even sure what it means. After all, relationships happen over time — not just an expectation of something happening after an event.

This mixer, however, made me think about relationships in general. The word “relationship” is used frequently in the business world, such as the value of relationships and how a relationship helped in a certain situation.

But for an online retailer that doesn’t see, hear, or otherwise directly communicate with most of its customers, what is a relationship? Can an online retailer improve or increase the value of a relationship?

Those questions prompted me to share some of my thoughts here, with the hope that others could expand on the ideas.

Becoming ‘essential’

In the world of retail — online and offline — true relationships are somewhat rare. There are always a few customers who frequent a retail establishment and develop relationships with clerks and customer service personnel. But most customers simply make their purchases and continue with their busy lives.

However some brands manage to become part of our lives. They don’t necessarily provide a better experience, which is extremely important, but we consumers nonetheless integrate the brands into our lives.

When this happens, the consumer becomes part of the brand and the brand becomes integrated into the life of the consumer. This relationship can be solidified over time. It can transcend distance and provide a high degree of loyalty to the retailer.

This integration, becoming part of the living experience of the customer, is something that has no name, or at least I couldn’t find a name for it. For the purposes of this article, I’ll call it “essential.”

Audible.com

An example of a retailer that became essential for me is Audible.com. I look forward to drive time and if the drive takes a bit longer I usually do not mind as I’m listening to a good book, which is a treat. It is a big part of my life since I listen for over an hour each day. Even though Audible.com has competitors and, in most cases, it is not the only one to carry the books I listen to, I never even look at other audio book providers.

When we become an essential retailer to our customers, competition becomes somewhat irrelevant as the essential brand is the first — and in many cases the only — choice for the consumer.

Moreover, those customers tend to buy more, which increases their lifetime value to the retailer. A level of trust has been created, wherein the customer feels that her values are the same as the retailer.

An ecommerce retailer cannot become essential to all of its customers. But the more that consider us essential, the more profitable we will become.

A plan for being essential

Thus I’ve been contemplating how to develop this for OverstockArt.com, so that we are essential for more of our customers. My plan is not completely formed.  However, here are the steps I am considering, to become an essential retailer.

  • Develop a measurement. There must be a way to measure success and it needs to be defined.
  • Identify candidates to communicate with. These should be very good customers who may already exhibit the “essential” traits, considering three metrics: (a) how many orders, (b) how much money, and (c) how often. Also, we’ll consider how recent was the last order.
  • Quantify what motivates the essential customers.
  • Develop a profile of possible candidates.

I don’t pretend that this is a complete plan. But keeping this in mind going into our annual strategy sessions can help with some of the main initiatives for next year.

Do you have ideas for becoming essential to your customers? I would love feedback or questions.

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