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Simon Joseph is Head of Group E-commerce at Jessops, where he is also responsible for Direct, Customer Services and B2B. He has previously worked as E-commerce Director at eXpansys Plc, and at DSG and Argos.

I caught up with him to find out how Jessops has adapted to multichannel retail, in advance of next week's Future of Digital Marketing event, where he will be taking part in our retail panel.

Whereabouts you are at as a multichannel retailer, and how long have you been working on this joined up approach?

Jessops has successfully sold through a variety of channels for a number of years. More recently we are enjoying a period of refocus by pulling retail, direct and e-commerce together under an integrated message and approach. This will hopefully ensure that customer experiences a seamless transaction regardless of route.

Examples of the strategic join behind this include ‘www.jessops.com’ branding, debuting across our recently refurbished store on New Oxford Street.

We have also re-aligned the ecommerce team to have closer cross functional integration throughout the business and all channel stakeholders feed into a steering group who drive multi-channel objectives.

Is the adoption of a multichannel approach determined by consumers, as opposed to positioning Jessops strategically as a business? Is it something you simply had to do?

There is inevitably both push and pull on this. However, purely from an ecommerce and direct view, consumer electronics were one of the first categories to emerge for sale via ecommerce channels over a decade ago. This in part explains why they participate so highly within categories of web sales.

An additional factor therefore includes the space in which Jessops operate being highly populated. As pure-play entrants emerged Jessops repositioned itself accordingly. Customers remain the principal driver of our approach and we therefore position ourselves to be where our customers are.

Our Photo category, which comprises digital prints, photobooks and photo gifts is a superb 'internet' category. Digital customers gravitate to our online store and certainly growth in this area fuels ongoing investment in development.  

Are multichannel businesses more efficient? How does a cross-platform business impact on team structure?

My experience in pure-play and multichannel tells me that if it’s executed well then absolutely yes. However, scale is vital to achieve this and a straightforward example would be our ‘collect at store’ proposition. This saves us the shipping fee when customer collects. It works as we give the customer 211 places where they can collect, whereas if we only provided 5 or 10 they likely wouldn’t.

At Jessops we moved our development team out of e-commerce and into Business Systems in an effort to align projects into achieving unified objectives, principally because of our back-end configuration. Similarly when scoping initiatives we are able to split test across all channels before committing to implementation. The benefits of split testing are far reaching as key success criteria can be reliably forecast.

Naturally, cross-platform challenges exist, however operating a solus team structure for design and marketing - plus merchandising and content - allows the implementation of a web focused and optimised approach, which can often run perpendicular to traditional methods in their application.

Do you price goods differently online, where price seems to matter more for electronic products, versus offline, where there tends to be a premium? What’s your thinking in this area?

Jessops position as the UK’s largest specialist multichannel retailer of photographic equipment has been established through consistently delivering a superb customer experience. We achieve this by employing passionate photographic enthusiasts, stocking a broad range of products and offering competitive pricing. Where we don’t win on price we’ll be close enough for the customer to feel value in the transaction given our focus on great service, as well as the availability that our supplier relationships allow.  

Owing to the development of the multichannel approach we do offer parity between most on/offline pricing, however we do operate price differentials on selected lines at selected times as we recognise that we don’t simply have one customer.

This can also work in reverse where we offer exclusive pricing in-store and we work hard to ensure the right products reach the right customer channel. Given the margins on consumer electronics we have to look to more creative ways to differentiate than on price alone.

Bundles of products are one such way to differentiate the offering. By constructing new SKUs comprising tactical lines we are able to drive different offers to different customers. This allows us to flex the margins we are able to achieve without compromising on brand promise.

Which channel would you prefer a customer to buy from and why? Is it a straight trade-off between profit and data?

Each channel present commercial benefits and challenges. For example retail customers turn inventory faster and settle immediately, however the cost of a sale is typically higher. Online orders are naturally less involved however the fraud rates are higher.

As such I am more interested in where we can build incremental customers, and - since e-commerce is expected to account for a bigger slice of group sales in the next three years - I am positioning to find them online.

Channel migration is interesting for us given our huge volume of retail customers. Our challenge is to ‘communitise’ them and using online tools is an efficient and personalised way to achieve this.

Similarly, collect at store, returns and repairs drive online customers into store where the experience builds their value perception and develops the multi-channel awareness further.

To what degree does offline drive online sales, and vice versa? E.g. catalogues to web sales. PPC to shop visits. Print ads to telephone enquiries. Do you measure your marketing efforts to this level of detail?

As a brand with high recognition, jessops.com significantly benefits from natural traffic, a significant driver of which comes from stores. Owing to this – as well as the nature and extent of our traditional marketing – it means that accurate measurement is eminently difficult.

We are able to measure with far greater levels of accuracy what proportion of customers use the web. We believe the photographic market use the web for about two thirds of research before going into a store. At Jessops our research tells us that about half of all instore customers use jessops.com.

How do you measure customer satisfaction? Do you measure it across all channels? How do the various channels measure up?

Yes, all channels are monitored and measured and I am currently implementing a revised CRM module as part of our multi-channel development. This will ensure that we measure every customer touchpoint with the same metric.

Stores have earned their reputation for personal service and we therefore receive extremely few issues from this channel. When they do occur they are typically fed into the store by customer, allowing a very high first time fix rate.

Online and Direct also receive relatively low incidences of customer dissatisfaction. Occurrences usually relate to a web bug or user journey feedback. Interestingly, we witness different approaches from customers depending on their purchase channel reflecting market research results on the variance of our customer.

How do you manage returns? Can customers who buy online process refunds in their local store? Any observations?

A principal value of our multi-channel approach is convenience so online customers can have a seamless relationship with a store. We can either collect the goods, swap them or invite the customer to visit any store to return or exchange an item. With 211 stores this is a compelling offer. It naturally requires a critical mass of stores to be able to achieve this with any meaning to a customer.

In reality, we find that an informed purchase yields far fewer returns and are therefore confident of our relaxed exchange policy.
Future developments will include the ability for customers to process their return online, regardless of purchase channel, and receive live updates on repairs.

Has mobile excited you yet? Is Jessops employing mobile as a sales / marketing / communication / retention channel? What are your thoughts in this area?

Mobile generates huge excitement for me however Jessops only currently use it to tell customers that goods are ready for store collection, and to confirm order dispatch, though I know that’s more than many other retailers offer.

Having worked in telecoms I’m intimately aware both of the emerging technology, penetration and the likely returns on mCommerce. I totally agree with Graham Charlton’s Econsultancy blog post on this subject. Despite the talk about mobile, I’ve not yet seen anyone deliver it particularly well though a recent personal experience saw my courier inviting me to text back to re-schedule my delivery which was surprisingly welcomed.

With the increased penetration of Winmo and RIM smart-phones and most recently iPhone and Android it is a priority to optimise the site for mobile traffic.
I’m particularly keen to implement a mobile store locator and an order update application given the typically remote application for these queries.

Chris Lake

Published 10 June, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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