Niranjan Gidwani is a consultant and the former chief executive officer at Eros Group Dubai
This topic deals with how crucial it is to have the “loyalty factor” in mind while setting up a strategic plan for success of an online business model, particularly for small, medium and large size organisations and groups whose traditional business models are traditional.
In today’s world, there is no business or service on just one or two channels, even if they believe they are.
What’s more likely is companies and organisations do not fully realise just how many channels their business requires to function. The customer journey can take their audience through a number of channels, including:
- Direct Retail
- Transactional sites and marketplaces, like Amazon, Noon.
- Company’s own online
- Search engines, social channels, and affiliate sites
- Email and other nurturing channels
- Print catalogues
- More would come along the way
Each and every individual channel requires product information. Somehow, a lot of the big companies in the world are still using legacy technologies for this, which means that someone is opening up big, bloated Excel spreadsheets and manually editing product content for dozens to hundreds of channels. This is often someone junior in marketing, or someone in IT who in all probability could be having better things to do, or an agency. Regardless, whoever is in charge of these processes may not necessarily be an expert in product data information assimilation and distribution. This also leads to high level of passing the buck when things do not fall in place with the necessary speed required in today’s world.
If this situation is so inefficient, why does it continue to happen?
It’s simple: upgrading old databases and methods in medium and large businesses can be incredibly difficult. Making real changes is not just about implementing a new tool or launching a campaign as a quick fix. Brands, distributors and retailers need to understand that the game has fundamentally changed. Manual product content management and distribution methods will not be a viable solution for any commerce business in the future.
For those individuals not personally working with product content and feeds, it’s easy to overlook just how complex and messy it can be.
In reality, it can take several weeks to understand exactly what a channel’s requirements are and then tailor the data to those requirements. Of course, this is just the basics. To drive sales and performance marketing efforts, there will need to be additional data (attributes for mobile, channel-specific attributes, or those used to better define the product) and optimisations (more clickable titles, custom labels for marketing campaign management).
A few channels can be managed manually by one intern or a junior staff member. A business with 50-100 products can definitely manage it reliably and successfully with manual spreadsheets. Now, consider the hundreds of touchpoints that a customer will reach along their journey. Preparing those, measuring their efficacy, and constantly optimising for better performance—that’s not a manual job. Nor is it one that can be achieved with an adhoc syndication strategy.
The manner in which product and supply chain of distribution is a well thought out strategy, in the same way businesses now need to be able to manage the distribution of all their content and information from a single, well-thought out central team or location. They need processes and methods that are automated, reliable, and—importantly—business user-friendly. In short, they need to turn piecemeal data distribution into a science.
Besides selling of products and services, the future, no doubt, is all about automation, data, and perfect optimisation.
Organisations and companies need to take stock of their current product information distribution methods. First, understand who is controlling the processes. Is it several members of IT, or is it completely outsourced to an agency? Or Is it a mixed responsibility between retail, IT and the brand or product team? It’s preferable to use either a good, qualified agency or bring it in-house and keep relevant marketing teams involved.
Product information should be on-brand and support the customer journey as well as performance marketing. IT alone cannot do this. We should not forget that a consistent, on-brand, and accessible product information is the basis of a positive customer experience. A positive customer experience, over time, builds the online loyalty that the business may have already attained in its offline model.
Second, understand how the data and distribution is managed. Is it being taken care of manually or is there a tool already in place? Does this tool make it easy for non-technical employees to manage the product data and save time?
Finally, companies will need to ensure that all of this product data can be easily optimised for marketing purposes.
Recent times have forced us to assess and speed up the rate of technology adoption as sectors like e-commerce have seen a hugely accelerated adoption across all industry sectors. The UAE is the region’s fastest growing e-commerce market with an increase in the count of mobile money wallets.
Yet, if one does a deep dive of the UAE market, it is mainly the government and government related organisations, the government related companies, banks, and an extremely few private sector large groups who have truly begun to formulate their online strategies, though almost all can stake claim to having their own e-commerce website. E-commerce requires much more than simply trying to take offline capabilities online.
In a recent survey done by E-commerce Zone Dubai, it was established that 72 per cent of businesses surveyed found their customers are making more purchases online since the start of the pandemic, 76 per cent believe that their customers prefer mobile devices and smartphones for their transactions, 62 per cent of businesses are willing to move online to reach a wider audience.
So overall, there is huge optimism and positivity about the future of online business within the UAE and in the GCC. Saudi Arabia, after its new initiatives, is a market waiting to happen.
Therefore, using the combination of the pandemic, social distancing, the large base of youth in the UAE and the region as a huge advantage factor, companies need to do more to emulate what the government does in this country, and use that as a model to rapidly speed up and grow the portion of their businesses which comes through online and omnichannel so that the loyalty that companies have built offline over the decades also begins to show online in the next couple of years. This is more achievable if organisations begin with the end in mind in terms of what they ultimately wish to achieve online. The starting point of this exercise needs to be how to create loyalty online. Surely, in the technology side of the business, there could be failures. But the ones who dare and also succeed will have a lot to be proud of.