Ted Speroni heads the European operations of HP.com, as well as the tech giant’s regional preferred online partner programme – an interesting case study in how to incentivise resellers via the web and drive sales through third parties.
We spoke to him recently about the challenges of running and managing the programme, as well as future plans for improvements.
Can you briefly summarise your role at HP.com?
I look after HP.com for the EMEA region. We have around 40 country websites throughout the region in something like 28 languages, so that’s my responsibility. I’m also responsible for all of our electronic content management across Europe, which is where we intersect with the online retail community.
At HP, we have a clear strategy of making our products available wherever our customers want to buy them – through high street shops, proximity resellers, online retailers, e-resellers and direct through HP.
We only sell direct through HP.com in five countries in Europe – the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. So in most countries, we connect in with the leading etailers.
We get daily feeds from all of them on their product availability and pricing, and we display them on HP.com. We then deep link into the shopping basket on each etailer, so we’re generating leads for them.
It’s just like an affiliate programme, but we don’t get a commission because it’s for our own products. We track the number and quality of leads we are sending each retailer and their conversion rates. We have all the data on which products sell and which cross-sell.
It’s a pretty big programme – we have about 150 partners in Europe that are part of it and we generate quite a considerable amount of leads and traffic for them. You have to qualify to be part of it – there are certain criteria you have to meet.
What are you doing at the moment to drive more traffic to these etailers?
The first thing is the integrated marketing approach we have. Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimisation (SEO) are probably the two biggest areas we are working on.
The fundamental principle is that we want to drive all that traffic to pages where we give the customer choice. All the marketing traffic drives people to landing pages that give people a choice about where to purchase the product.
Our investment in SEM is probably in line with the growth we see overall in the industry. We’re also making quite heavy investments internally in SEO, because a much higher percentage of our traffic comes from natural search and the conversion rate is not that dissimilar to SEM.
Natural search is a big area of focus for us at the moment. With SEM, we always get people to the right page, to specific landing pages. With natural search, we’re not as convinced we’re always getting people to the correct page.
For that, we’re analysing where the traffic is going from natural search results so that we can give the customer choice on those pages, and also looking at how to make sure people go to the pages they want to go to.
Do you have any challenges in terms of funnelling search traffic – whether natural or paid – through your site, rather than straight to etailers? Do you allow brand bidding, for example?
We are currently assessing what we will do in this area from both a technical perspective and from a commercial perspective as part of our co-op marketing programme with the channel. I would anticipate that we will do some limited pilots as part of this assessment.
How difficult is it to maintain communication with partners across multiple channels?
We’re pretty happy with the multi-channel approach we have taken. Encompassing all the different ways customers want to buy products is the most important thing.
We’ve struggled with that for a long time and we’re just trying to make each channel as efficient as possible. We still have a way to go – I’m still working on a number of projects to optimise the different channels.
One thing is the question of high street retailers and the question of integration of inventory. When a customer wants to buy a specific camera they want to know whether it is in stock today, and I don’t want the site to send them to the wrong place.
How are you managing the syndication of product information to your partners in the programme? How challenging is that?
My team syndicates out all the content to our resellers. What this is all about is we want to control the HP brand in relation to our products. We produce electronic content feeds in 28 languages of all the product information – pictures, marketing messaging, specifications, everything.
Whenever a customer anywhere in Europe is seeing information about an HP product, there’s a very high probability that that will be content we have created. The picture is the picture we want people to see. We feel it’s been very successful for us – not only in terms of controlling our brand, but also in terms of cutting costs for our partners. They don’t need to do content acquisition.
We’ll either syndicate the content via XML feeds, or sometimes the resellers are buying the content through content aggregators. And this extends beyond simple product information – we also syndicate out our recommended cross-sell products. If you buy a HP printer, we have a list of recommended accessories.
This is a key thing – similar to what Dell have talked about in terms of increasing average shopping basket size. Our top priority partners are partners that sell complete HP solutions, so this tool helps them sell complete HP solutions. Resellers can’t say they don’t know which products sell well with others, because we are telling them.
I should also mention another component – we’re not just syndicating content, we also syndicate a configurator for configurating PCs.
We feed all the data into the configurator about the different configurations you can build. You as a customer configure the PC and the information goes into the shopping basket of the retailer, as well as coming through to the HP factory so we can build the configuration. We then match up the order when the retailer passes the order through to us, and we ship it.
It goes beyond syndicating content – you’re syndicating widgets, real web apps that can be integrated into websites.
How else are you looking to use widgets?
Another area is product advisors. We have product advisors on HP.com and we would like to syndicate them out. The principle behind this is that we don’t want to provide a link on retailers’ websites to HP.com, we want to keep the customers on their sites.
As we move HP.com to a more modular, Web 2.0-type approach, we’ll see which components we can syndicate out. We also have flash demos so there’s an opportunity for resellers to have them on their website, although the resellers do have to have some merchandising people that know about the products. Their sites also have to be Web 2.0-enabled.
How many are, do you reckon?
I have no idea. Very few probably.
What are you doing in terms of social media and social shopping?
We’re starting to pilot some social tagging concepts on our product pages, so that people can easily embed our product pages into different sites, like Myspace profiles for example.
It’s at a very early stage but it’s about the whole concept of exporting our stuff onto the social networking sites, as opposed to trying to get people onto our sites. We haven’t implemented it in Europe, but in the US we have started some pilots.
For a while now, we have also had RSS links on promotions from our site – we’ve had some uptake of that, but it’s not a killer app I would say. We’re basically looking at how we can help people who want to create content around our products, and facilitate that.
There’s a lot of HP content on YouTube – lots of people make videos about how to make the new HP printer, for example. So our approach is ‘if people want to do this, let’s help them and let’s benefit from it.’ If we can get user generated linkage to our products, it’s incredibly powerful.
Have you looked at user generated reviews?
We’re doing a pilot in the US with user generated reviews. We haven’t started that yet in Europe – I’m trying to work out a scaleable model with all the language issues.
We have to have some quality control on the user reviews – we can’t depend completely on community policing. We need some proactive moderation – since it’s on our website, we can’t take risks with legal issues and so on.
You can say our products aren’t good but you have to use appropriate language. Also, we don’t want you to be able to comment on our competitors’ products. You can say what you want about our products but you can’t push competitors’ products.
We’ve been running this for about six months in the US and there’s been good uptake, and we haven’t had big issues with appropriateness. In Europe, I am looking to deploy something and looking into the multi-language issues.