Foreword for

September 15, 2000

By Monte Zweben, CEO, Blue Martini Software

With E-Volve or Die, Mitchell Levy has captured and distilled the essence of today's e-commerce practices. The following chapters explain exactly what businesses need in order to enact successful commerce on the Internet. I recommend that you pay especially close attention to Chapter 1, where Mitchell sheds new light on the latest mindset that is required to be successful on the Internet, and Chapter 4, where he really zeros in on the critical issues involved in successfully interacting with customers. Mitchell leaves no stone unturned in his powerful story, but let me try and draw out a few points that I feel are especially significant:

When e-commerce first emerged, most observers felt that it would become a powerful marketing force that operated independently of existing channels. This impression was reinforced by the seeming success, especially in the capital markets, of Web-only retailers such as Amazon and eToys. As traditional businesses recognized the strategic importance of the Internet and began to follow suit, they naturally tended to follow the same strategy that had been established by the e-tail pioneers. The result of this disconnect was dissatisfaction when online customers realized purchase could not simply be returned to a local store, reseller resentment as they were cut out of the supply chain, and brand dilution in the online marketplace. Even established brands, when first getting online, felt the pull to develop separate on and offline operations, with the online operations operating in a vacuum from the physical stores with separate inventory, separate information systems, separate exchange and return systems.

The notable move away from a Web-only e-tailing business model in a number of prominent cases has led both clicks-and-mortar and clicks-only etailers to the realization that their approach to e-commerce should be consistent with and coordinated to their other marketing channels. Companies should present a single face that is personalized to their customers' individual requirements and unique characteristics. After all, a company's online customers are, for the most part, the same people that come into their stores. For example, a customer should be able to browse, compare and purchase products on a company's website and then choose to pick up the goods at the store to avoid shipping costs and wait time. Similarly, a business-to-business customer should be able to identify the product through an e-mail campaign, then establish mutually agreeable terms with a salesperson on the telephone and subsequently execute recurring transactions on the company's website according to the negotiated terms.

Polaroid is a company in the B2B space that has successfully addressed channel conflict issues. The company's site delivers business and professional users access to real-time imaging solutions through resellers and is the cornerstone of the Polaroid B2B business model. The site addresses the fact that individual resellers need the support of a well recognized branding campaign to help translate buyers' needs into solutions. Without this, there can often be a considerable time lag between the web site visit and sale. In order to streamline the sales process, Polaroid's site performs a needs analysis to suggest solutions to customer problems. Extensive product content is provided to the end-customer to accelerate the purchase decision. The customer is then redirected to the reseller's website to complete the order. Polaroid has also found an easy way to manage content and product information and personalize each interaction with business-to-business customers. Their business users can easily update content without the involvement of IT resources and use data warehousing, data mining, reporting and personalization capabilities to create a tailored customer experience.

And this is only the beginning of a new generation of e-commerce that typifies the term "E-Volve." For example, visionaries are working on collaborative shopping applications that allow two or more friends to shop online together, even when sitting halfway across the world from each other. Just as shopping in a retail store is usually a social experience, collaborative shopping will help to socialize e-commerce by giving friends the opportunity to convince each other to buy things. The result should be substantially higher conversion rates. The bottom line, and one of the most important things that can be taken away from Mitchell's comprehensive book, is that the first generation of Web-only etailing has provided extremely valuable lessons about customer interaction. You need to respond by making sure your business takes advantage of multiple touchpoints including integration with traditional channels. Mitchell's book also makes it crystal clear that businesses today have zero time to lose in implementing these lessons.