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Customers Rule! The high-tech honeymoon is over and customers are choosing the winners today — and it doesn't matter to them whether those businesses operate out of a storefront or reach them through a computer screen. Any company that's still debating whether the future belongs to traditional bricks-and-mortar stores or the dot-coms is probably already losing the battle. Retail executives, consultants, and marketing firms alike have been jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon, proclaiming the end of retail as we know it. The numbers tell a different story. It's become clear that the Internet is not a revolution in retail — it's an evolutionary force and nothing more. No one can deny that the Internet has changed the way we live, communicate, and work, but the Internet is not where the retail war is being waged. Today's battles are being fought supply chain against supply chain. The weapons are consumer-savvy sales, marketing and fulfillment organizations, multichannel retail, distribution and marketing operations, and yes, the Internet. The mission is complex and demands new skills and strategies, but the goal is a simple one: solving customers' problems better than their competitors and with better-than-current solutions. Roger Blackwell and Kristina Stephan have spent years watching, analyzing, and advising the players. In Customers Rule! they offer case studies that reveal the inside story of successful operations like Victoria's Secret, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom's, Sherwin-Williams, and a dozen other corporations — companies that have created a blended strategy that combines the best of online and offline commerce. They also reveal the flaws that made companies like Boo.com, eToys, and Pets.com road kill on the information superhighway. In Customers Rule! you'll learn about the crucial operational requirements for success in today's hyperaccelerated, hypercompetitive retail environment, discover how to reach online customers (and keep them once you do), observe successful online and offline branding strategies, and see how successful companies are creating customer satisfaction 24/7, 365 days a year. There's much more, but Blackwell and Stephan's principal message is that a blended strategy which preserves the best of the old and takes the best of the new is the surest way to success.
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The early hype was that e-commerce would quickly supercede and replace the traditional ways of doing business. Reality has now set in, and it is becoming increasingly clear business success will depend on a "blended" strategy--which combines the best features of conventional commerce with the new ways to reach customers made possible by Internet technologies.
In particular, it has become clear there is no magic formula to making money using the Internet. Those companies which prosper will be those who do the business fundamentals better than anyone else:
Capturing and retaining customers.
Building and growing quality brands.
Amassing highly efficient logistics and distribution systems.
Continuing to grow and generate increasing profits by constantly finding new and better ways to serve customers.
The heart of any long-term winning business strategy is the realization that ultimately customers decide which business models, retail formats, sales techniques and strategies they like and feel comfortable with. Therefore, the decisions on how best to incorporate the Internet into those areas will be made on an industry-by-industry basis. For some, the Internet will be vitally important while for others it will be much less important. And for individual firms, business success will depend less on e-commerce capabilities and more on their ability to develop customer-driven solutions, master the key commerce functions profitably and wow customers.
In short, those firms which take note of and cater to the way their customers want to do business will do well, while companies that focus on just one side or the other of e-commerce will struggle to survive.
Rather than being a revolutionary new way to do business, it is now becoming clear the Internet is instead a step in the ongoing evolution of commercial markets. Like the introduction of the telephone, electricity and computer technology have changed the commerce landscape in the past, the Internet is a business enabler opening up new channels of distribution.
In an evolving marketplace, survival comes down to the matter of adaptability. Those businesses which learn from the experiences of the dot-coms and take on board the best practices in using the Internet to reach customers and enhance their experience will do well. By contrast, both dot-coms or brick-and-mortar firms who resist change will have significant competitive disadvantages. They simply won't be able to compete with businesses harnessing both sides of the e-commerce dynamic.
In the final analysis, the Internet does not present business with a magic formula for making money out of thin air. The foundation principles of success are still the same:
Develop customer-driven solutions.
Master the commerce functions needed to generate profits.
Wow customers through new and existing sales channels.
Or, in other words, the most successful companies will harness the Internet technologies better to do what they have always done well--letting customers have more of what they want.
It is more important for companies to master the "commerce" side of the e-commerce equation than it is for companies to master the "e" side. Why? Because regardless of what type of business field you are in, unless you can efficiently perform the activities required to get goods from the producer to the consumer, you won't be competitive.
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