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Internet Retailing 2011 Interview: Dominic Smith, JD Williams

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In our latest piece previewing our annual conference, Internet Retailing 2011, we asked Dominic Smith of JD Williams about the multichannel company’s use of product-level data to increase online sales.

Internet Retailing: Can you tell me about how JD Williams uses ecommerce?

Dominic Smith, ebusiness development manager, JD Williams: We have been transacting online now since the mid 90s. As a traditional catalogue retailer the websites were very much an add-on to the main catalogue business and supported the catalogues. However as we have developed our online proposition, we have seen online penetration gradually increase to around 50% of total turnover, including pureplays and main book brands such as Simply Be and Marisota.

IR: What led you to the conclusion that using product-level data would be useful in marketing?

DS: We were looking for new recruitment channels and also saw a rise in the usage of product feeds by affiliates. More and more we saw customers looking for better deals online, using more voucher code sites and eventually saw this as a big opportunity to attract that market who were not particularly after a relationship but wanted the best deal on their product.

IR: How did you implement that?

DS: After identifying the opportunity we had to estimate the benefits to the business vs the cost to implement and have our IT team look at how we resourced. Once agreement was reached on a robust business plan, we looked at how we could manage this ourselves however it quickly became apparent that, with over 20 main transactional sites and a desire to work with 6 or 7 CSEs, it was going to be problematic to do this – we needed help which is when we decided to look at who offered a feed management service.

Considering these objectives it was obvious we needed a partner to guide us and work with us in particular at getting access to drilling down into the product level data and ensuring our feeds were as optimized as possible. In addition we received valuable experience in working with CSEs and ensuring we were driving significant volume of demand at acceptable KPIS.

We initially rolled out our product data feeds across Googlebase and very quickly added other CSEs to the list – ensuring we were continually optimizing the feeds to the best we could.

IR: What have been the benefits for your business – but also what have been the challenges?

DS: The main benefit to the business is that the channel is one of the most cost-effective channels which we recruit to online. In addition we have seen search volumes double over the last year as more customers tend to use the CSEs to get that bargain.

The flipside of this is that often it can prove difficult to get these customers to enter into a relationship with us – as bargain hunters they want the one-off purchase.

In addition the structure of the company is based around an offer-led model which can be problematic when you are using that product level data to recruit with. This involves really keeping on top of feed quality and ensuring that we are giving customers the best products and the best offers that we can

Finally, as a continually changing and developing channel we know that the demands of CSEs will mean more attention needs to be paid to how we use our data to recruit with – only last week Google introduced a significant change to their spec in September which we will need to action in order that we stay competitive and ensure we keep our recruitment numbers buoyant in a very challenging market.

IR: Based on your experiences, what single piece of advice would you have for others looking to improve their ecommerce businesses?m

DS: Look at the data you have and how you can fit this into your online marketing mix. As technology improves, we will see a move away from mass audience sales channels into more niche targeted routes to sales and demand generation. As this develops so too will the need to fully understand the customer journey and how it interacts with these channels.

IR: What one other innovation are you particularly pleased with at JD Williams?

DS: Whilst perhaps not ‘sexy,’ the one area that we are experts at here at JD Williams is in data and digging down deep into our customer data and truly understanding how customers interact with our online channels – be that the volume of new customers converting on only one click or the role retargeting plays in converting non ordering account setups. Without this understanding we risk throwing money at channels which do not really play a valuable role in the sales process at all.

Dominic Smith, ebusiness development manager at JD Williams, will be speaking at Internet Retailing 2011. He will be speaking in Track 3 at 2.40pm at the event, to be held on October 4 at the Novotel in London’s Hammersmith.

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