This morning, Sears Holdings announced that it would close between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores, citing disappointing sales during the 2011 holiday retail season. Even though the company usually keeps under-performing stores open, it decided not to do so in this case because it wants to concentrate on making its good stores even better.
The thing that was especially interesting in the press statement that Sears issued was its emphasis on the need for better integration of online and in-store activities. It isn't just big companies, of course, that need to pay better attention to their e-commerce strategy. So, in the spirit of getting you company thinking for 2012, I offer these 5 ways you might improve your company's e-commerce presence in the next 12 months.
- Invest in integrating your e-commerce backend into your core point-of-sale system. How much does it annoy you when the customer service desk within a retailer can't "see" sales or inventory information related to the same company's Web site. Do you subject your customers to this disconnect? As the percentage of sales related to your e-commerce site grows, this will become a more acute need. In addition, as new cybersales tax policies come into play, your company will be at a disadvantage if it can't account for them quickly?
- Optimize your site for a mobile experience. The number of people accessing Web sites from either a smart phone or a media tablet is growing quickly. If your design doesn't accommodate those devices, would-be customers could spend far too much time seeking contact information or trying to figure out how to check out for a purchase. Your team might need to consider a separate mobile design, optimized for the mobile platform most used by your company's customer demographic.
- Consider mobile payment software. A few weeks ago, Javelin Strategy & Research published some data suggesting that U.S. consumers are still leery of using their credit cards on e-commerce sites, in part because of all the highly public security breaches during 2011. But the comfort that many people have in selecting and downloading applications to their mobile device, and paying for same either via a carrier or mobile store operator has gotten them more used to the idea that mobile payments might be a better option. That is something to consider as e-commerce
- Arm your retail staff with mobile devices. I am increasingly hearing about small retailers that are experimenting with smartphones and tablets on the sales floor. There are two dominant themes: the need to help customers sort through the features of details of item that they might want to buy and a move toward enabling transactions away from the point-of-sale in order to accommodate more customers and cut down on visible lines.
- Speed up the experience. Images are a wonderful thing to help show off products, but sometimes a catalog can slow a Web site down. As more infrastructure services move to the cloud, your small business might want to consider options that help accelerate the process by which customers can navigate through the site. That is especially true for peak periods, such as the just-ending 2011 retail season but it might not be a bad idea for the rest of the year, either.