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11 Multichannel Marketing Tactics

If you sell products or services online, you probably sell them through other channels too, like stores, direct mail, by phone, trade shows, etc. The 11 tactics below are geared to help each sales channel amplify all the others.
Managing Editor Eileen Shulock also directs the sizable e-commerce operations for Intermix. Intermix is a hip and happening fashionista retailer with stores in many "state-of-mind" cities like NYC, LA, Las Vegas and Miami.
Eileen shares with us some key tactics she uses to help each sales channel amplify all the others. She also shares some of the best practices shes picked up from other online and offline merchants. She follows these best practices like a hawk. -Larry Chase

1. Gift Cards, E-Cards

Gift cards represent a large portion of Intermix's business all year, not just during the holidays. We offer the sale of physical gift cards on our site and in stores, as well as electronic gift cards for purchase on our site. Both can be redeemed at stores or online.

Approximately 50% of our online customers live within shopping distance of one of our stores. The multichannel ability to purchase and redeem gift cards online opens up our market to the 50% of our customers who live well beyond the reach of our stores. It also introduces our stores to those customers who may not be familiar with us, but are the lucky recipient of a gift.

We find that a significant number of people who end up traveling to a city with a store location tell us that they visit the store because they were introduced through an online purchase.

TIP: We find that offering predetermined amounts for gift card purchases online tends to increase our average order. After all, if you are buying a $25 gift card, it's not such a leap to raise the gift to $50. Don't underestimate your range of predetermined dollar amounts -- we often see single gift card purchases totaling $1000 or more.

2. Email Address Collection

It's important to try to collect email addresses of both customers and visitors to your stores. It's not so difficult to do this online, as we offer large sign-up opportunities on all the pages of our site. Unfortunately, in our stores, sales associates are rushed to complete purchases during busy times when lines are long; sometimes they don't take the extra step to collect an email address.

We also we regularly need to remind store staff of the "pitch" that should be told to customers so that it is clear they are signing up for an email newsletter that is sent out weekly. This happens for a variety of reasons, including the obvious one that we hire new people in our stores all the time and they may not be familiar with this policy.

In our particular circumstance we find that customers who gave their email address at the store unsubscribe at a higher rate than those who signed up online. Your mileage may vary.

Finally, I have yet to see a store find a great way to encourage visitors -- not just customers -- to sign up for emails. You can't just take names at the door. ;) But we are working on it.

3. Bouncebacks and Direct Mail

We use physical direct mail pieces and bouncebacks (postcards tucked inside packages or boxes) to promote multichannel offers. We find it effective to offer a percentage off of the next purchase in store or online. These bouncebacks and direct mail pieces are just as likely to be redeemed online as they are in the stores.

We are also working on offering a business card-sized website promotion at the cash wrap for customers who may not know that we have a website. The small size of the card is not ideal, but it's important to our company to keep the checkout area clean and clear, without taking up a lot of space for promotional collateral.

Other types of sales operations such as pharmacies or toy stores may have the opposite problem, which is making their website collateral stand out amidst other types of promotions.

4. Online-Only and Store-Only Merchandise

Although it may seem counterintuitive, we do showcase merchandise on our website that can only be purchased in our stores. We offer an email address that the visitor can use to directly contact a salesperson from the store carrying the merchandise so she can shop by phone or email.

The reason we do this is that some high-end fashion designers do not want their products to be sold online anywhere, but we do want to promote the merchandise so people know we carry it. We see a decent number of requests; in terms of lead generation, we do take into consideration that the merchandise tends to be priced at $2000 or more per item.

We also always push for merchandise that is to be sold only on the website. First of all, this offers a valuable test of how well the merchandise will perform if it is bought for the stores. We also try to get our company to buy items that cannot be carried in our stores because we don't have the physical shelving to do so (this obviously isn't a problem online).

Another company that carries merchandise that can only be bought online is Target.com. They offer a wide range of furniture that presumably would take up too much space in their physical stores.

5. Online Preorders/Waiting Lists

We frequently get merchandise from our buyers that will be in stock within a month or two and offer it online for preorder. This creates a frenzy in our real-world stores, which are asked by visitors when they will receive the merchandise (we love the fact that visitors to the stores are obviously checking out our website). Many people prefer to try things on before buying, and because we feature only the most covetable pieces they are eager to get their hands on them.

On the downside, customers are sometimes disappointed when told at our stores that the merchandise won't be in for another month or so. Of course the stores then tells customers that tjey can sign up for preorder online.

TIP: When the customer places a preorder online she must give her credit card number. Her credit card will not be charged until the merchandise is shipped, but this does make the customer feel like she is making a commitment to the purchase. Once the product comes in, a minute number of customers actually change their minds and cancel their order.

6. Online Consultations

One of the biggest mantras of our company is that we provide one-on-one style consultations to every visitor who walks into one of our stores (rather than letting them walk around aimlessly through the racks).

We mirror this service online by offering an email address where visitors can send messages with their questions (questions range from "what do I wear with this?" to "how does it fit?"). This tactic serves as a lead generation tool. We receive about 20 queries a day with a 15% conversion rate to sale online.

Visitors also frequently ask "is this item available in a store near me?" because they want to try it on or see it in more detail. So the service serves as a lead generation tool for our stores as well.

7. Email Store Drivers

We slice and dice our email list to drive traffic to our stores with store-only promotions. Recipients are required to physically print out the email and bring it into the store, so we have an accurate count of how many were redeemed.

We also use lists quite successfully to target customers in specific segments -- big spenders, customers interested in specific category groups, customers who have not shopped for a while and so on. We experience a definite lift in recency, frequency and monetary value of store purchase as a result of these emails.

8. Customer Geotargeting

We use our website analytics to see where our customers live. Since 50% of Intermix's online customers live outside of our store regions, this is valuable information that is used to target areas for physical store expansion.

We also save all inquiries from site visitors who live outside the US and want to shop. This informs us as to where we should launch our online capabilities to shop and ship internationally. We find that inquiries come from Canada, South America and a surprising number from Kuwait.

9. Store Directory Listings

There are many niche online directories where you can list your physical store locations. One in our niche is Store Adore, which is a shopping destination site organized by city. We threw an online offer into our store listing in this directory as a whim, as it seemed illogical to promote to browsers who were looking for local stores. To our surprise, this online offer proved to be one of out most successful promotions of the quarter.

TIP: Don't overlook bloggers who have a regional focus in your topic area. Advertising to their readership is a great way to create awareness and drive business to your online and real-word stores. By reaching out and developing relationships with influential bloggers you will also be "top of mind" when they need a retail partner for a promotion. For example, we frequently provide $500 gift certificates to bloggers to offer as sweepstakes to their readership.

10. Mobile Listings and Promotions

If you are not a smart phone user, you may be surprised at the ease with which you can browse for both local store information and related online websites on these devices. Therefore, we advertise on the mobile version of Google AdWords, and buy our own URL as a keyword. While the numbers of shoppers coming from a mobile device are not huge yet, they are steadily growing.

We do the same for Google Maps, so that when users look for a specific store location they see an ad for our online store. Yes, the user is looking for a physical store at the moment, but we use this advertising to build awareness of the online store presence as well.

11. Centralized Customer Service

Many retailers centralize their customer service so that one team handles both website and store inquiries. While we do not do so, in reality many of our store customers go to the website and email customer service anyway.

So we have designated a point person in the organization for store customer service. We forward all emails to her, and she then takes over and figures out the answers from the right person. The right person might be a store manager, a regional director (for really angry customers) or a buyer. The online customer service team is kept in the loop so we can follow the chain of emails and make sure every issue is resolved.

Bonus Tip #1

Your Call Is Important to Us... Not

There is nothing more irritating than calling a customer service line and being told "Your call is important to us, and oh by the way, you can make your purchase and/or communicate with us on our website." You can tell me that one time, or maybe twice, but after that, stop it. It leads me to believe that my call is not so important to you.

Bonus Tip #2

Don't Let Corporate Develop Programs that In-Store Sales Staff Can't Deliver

One of my pet peeves involves favorite retailer that I go to frequently, whose name will remain anonymous. Because I've been buying from them in large quantities for years, they have entered me into their "Elite Customer" program, which is supposed to entitle me to all sorts of goodies. I received an email that told me I was now formally entered into this exulted customer retention program.

But while the email comes from corporate, the sales people on the actual selling floor of one of their retail outlets that I frequent had never heard of the program. So there I am, on one hand being highly esteemed by one end of the organization and being informed of all the perks I can expect... and on the other hand, the sales folks don't know of this program from a hole in the wall.

A lesser shopper could be very alienated by the disconnect between the well-intentioned corporate program to hold on to their best customers and the sales people on the floor who haven't been advised of such.