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Selling to the digital consumer

Has e-retailing taken the shine off direct marketing? Not really, it may be seen as another way to reach the consumer directly

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We live in a fluid world of shifting paradigms. Not so long ago, there were companies selling goods directly to consumers using tools like mailers, catalogues, flyers, postcards, brochures etc where consumers could neither touch the product nor feel it. This was an era of when businesses were driving a specific “call to action”, asking the prospective consumers to call a free number or place an order via mail.

When the concept of direct marketing emerged, marketers around the world took to it as it was convenient, low-cost, flexible, and above all helped businesses to improve overall accountability. Consumers too were willing to try this emerging medium. With time the various ingredients of direct marketing-mailing, postage, and production-became an expensive and cumbersome task thereby forcing marketers to look for sustainable options.

As we entered the digital world, an era pregnant with opportunities emerged. A new intelligence hit the market and the dot-com revolution came by with it a new kind of approach allowing brands to get a direct measurable return per penny spent. Direct marketing graduated to non-print options like email, websites, and mobile channels, but the traditional marketing objective remained intact-to reach to the consumer directly. It catered to consumers across geographies, defied operational timings, had unlimited shelf space-and all this with minimal infrastructure. Everyone with a website is trying to sell something or the other online. Consumers are willing to buy products online without touching, holding, smelling or otherwise handling the products.

The dot-com era prepared the grounds for online marketing and a new race of retailers — the e-retailers. With 2.26 billion internet users across the world and India accounting for 121 million, the e-retail industry at present is growing at rates three times faster than the overall industry. Online advertising has quickly become more and more mainstream as brands of every size and scope discover that the web can be a powerful and persuasive promotional medium.

People living in metros with busy lifestyle prefer to shop via the web as it saves them time. Many entrepreneurs came up with outstanding ideas, plans and the e-retailing industry picked up pace. Over time, the industry attracted generous funding from venture capitalists. It does not imply that e-retailing is the brain child of the web, but it just got kick started by the web. With the rising land and manpower costs, the traditional brick and mortar retailers witnessed the entry of new-age retailers and an all new level of virtual marketing emerged.

So what if you cannot go to a physical store! Today there is an option to visit the virtual store and shop online-for anything. To top it all, online retailers also offer better deals/ discounts to consumers as they save a lot of operational cost by saving on rentals, payroll, fixtures and on overheads from running a business from a shopping centre. The trend of online shopping is also picking up in tier 2 cities as the consumers do not get the same opportunities to purchase products from their local retail outlets. At the same time, the industry faces challenges like reaching out to markets beyond metros — small towns and villages where infrastructure is limited and there is no new media exposure. There is no option for the buyers to try out the products they're buying as there is no physical encounter. There are issues over payment security and product quality.

This worldwide web allows us to use all the traditional techniques in a new way — the digital way. Consumers are sharper, smarter, more aware, more aspirational and more tech-savvy. A marketer dealing with this smart consumer has to work much harder, much smarter, unlearn a few things and discover new trends.

Businesses are not restricting themselves to just one route; they are blending traditional marketing techniques adding new hues. For instance, e-retailers need to find out just who is buying from them so they can target those people again. And they need to figure a way to acquire new consumers, cheaply and efficiently, by using media wisely. They need to build customer database, send them direct emailers, offer deals/discounts and so on. Conversely, businesses previously using direct marketing as their foremost way are also building their e-shops.

Pouring over the evolution of marketing, from the era of direct marketing to the present, reveals interesting trends. This is an age where we are witnessing different forms of marketing co-exist. The fundamental rules are intact but modus operandi has changed drastically. Businesses use conventional marketing theories but transform them into novel equivalents, whether the company is selling books, consumer products, grocery items or services.


William S Pinckney
Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, Amway India

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