As Economy Impacts Online Retail, Companies Shift Marketing Focus

In one of the press conferences I attended, it was said that in this economic slowdown, the smaller firms are affected more because of their limited resources, that bigger companies can withstand this situation far better than their smaller counterparts.

I beg to disagree, given the right tools and strategy, I believed the smaller firms will survive or can better withstand this crisis because they are more flexible and has less operating expense compared to the bigger companies. They can implement changes in a matter of time, like embracing technology much faster particularly the web.

Findings from The State of Retailing Online 2009, the 12th annual Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research Inc. shows that the economy is forcing online retailers to change their marketing tactics in order to acquire and retain customers. The survey of 117 online retailers also found that, while the number of companies focusing on customer retention has nearly doubled in the past year, many retailers see the recession as an opportunity to capture market share from weakened competition

While Internet sales continue to outpace traditional retail sales, companies are realistic about current challenges. According to the survey, one-half of respondents (54 percent) expect overall retail growth to slow during the next 12 months, and 57 percent of respondents acknowledge the economic slowdown is hurting their company’s bottom line. That said, companies are bullish about Web operations: four out of five retailers think the Web is better suited than other channels to withstand the recession, and one-third of retailers say the downturn has enabled them to capture greater market share. Illustrating the resilience of the Web, retailers report that their conversion rates continue to hover between 3 percent and 3.5 percent as they have for years.

Under pressure from the economy, nearly one-third of companies (30 percent) are spending less than originally planned on Web retail operations this year. Among retailers cutting costs, most (88 percent) will scale back hiring and staffing plans, and slightly more than half (56 percent) of retailers will spend less on search. Others see the economy as an opportunity to increase market share and are charging ahead with new initiatives. Almost one-half of retailers surveyed (46 percent) have no plans to cut back original budgets and will spend as planned on their Web business, while one in four retailers (24 percent) will spend more on their online business than originally planned. Companies planning to spend more will increase investments in several areas, including search (80 percent of respondents), email (65 percent), and social marketing (60 percent).

According to the survey, a majority of retailers (88 percent) list email as a high priority for the year, largely to retain customers. Almost three-fourths of retailers (71 percent) plan to send segmented emails to customers based on stated preferences or purchase data. In addition, more than one-half of retailers will use emails that highlight new product availability (55 percent), extend invitations to participate in surveys or garner customer feedback (55 percent), and feature online-only promotions (53 percent).

Despite the focus on customer retention, many retailers — primarily multichannel retailers — say their efforts at customer acquisition will be higher this year than last year. But for those retailers that operate primarily online, customer retention (which has historically been a distant second goal for this group) is now critical.

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