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Multi-Channel Commerce – do I have to support it?

The number of online sales channels is increasing. A couple of years ago, being online meant having a web site, but the last two years have seen the development of at least two significant new channels – the mobile channel, and the social channel.

Currently there are four accepted “pillars of online commerce” – the MOTO, eCommerce, mobile & social channels. A multi-channel strategy involves knowing the relative importance of each of these channels to your business, and allocating your resources accordingly.

The new “pillars” of online commerce

It is worth noting that as each new channel develops, it builds on the experience gained from the previous channels, so it can take off in a much shorter time frame. While eCommerce had taken 16 years to develop (traditionally being dated from the launch of Amazon in 1995), current projections are for mCommerce to become the biggest online channel in 5 years (or significantly less, according to some projections). And as for social commerce – it is just starting now, but it really has the potential for explosive growth.

And it is worth noting that each new “pillar” that emerges does not replace an existing one, but in fact strengthens the sector as a whole. Which of these channels are relevant to your business? For most businesses, they are ALL relevant, though the mix of channels may be different. The point being, if a customer wants to give you business in a particular way, do you want to accept, or tell them they must deal with you in a different way? Is that customer likely to come back?

And the winner is….

One questions is frequently asked – which channel is going to win? Can I not just wait to see who the winner is, and then react accordingly? This is a bad strategy for two reasons. Firstly, there will be no one “winner”. Each customer will select the channel that best suits their needs, at each stage of the purchasing process. And customers will “hop” between channels at different stages of the purchasing process. For example, they may be happy to do their initial research over a mobile channel, but would want to use a laptop to place the actual order, but check the delivery status via Facebook. Each customer is different. So to appeal to the widest possible audience, all online channels should be supported.
And the second reason for not waiting for a winner, is that while you are waiting, your competitors will be out there grabbing market share, which once lost, is hard to gain back.

Getting your slice of the multi-channel pie

One misconception – multi-channel does not mean that consumers spend more. The overall “payments pie” does not get (significantly) bigger. But consumers do concentrate their spending with those brands that support the channels they want to use. So not supporting these channels means potentially losing out on your slice of the pie.
And we all love pie, don’t we?

[This blog post is an extract from the “Shift Happens!” seminar on Multi-channel Services, held in the Guinness Storehouse on the 5th May 2011. The presentation was given by John Clarke, Head of Product Innovation, at Worldnet, the Multi-Channel Online Payment Gateway. Click here to see the actual presentation on multi-channel commerce].