Do retailers really need websites?

In recent months we’ve seen retailer Ocado offer passers by the chance to scan bar codes of their most popular products via a ‘virtual wall’; FMCG brand Absolut Vodka invite consumers to create unique art via an app and now bar chain Varsity ditch its website and divert marketing spend to Facebook to engage with students.

It’s clear brands are reveling in the new technologies evolving at their fingertips and it’s great to see them really start to have fun with online engagement…but there’s a real danger here of ‘kid in a sweetshop’ syndrome.

As apps and mobile activity are on the increase, along with social media campaigns and user-generated content, are people bypassing the brand websites that many retailers spend millions on? Are consumers content with just interacting with brands on facebook or twitter? Is this the death of the website as we know it?

Er, no. Everyone just needs to calm down a bit.

Some quarters suggest that the trusty old website should just pack up and slowly disappear off into the sunset to join the likes of the gramophone and VHS player. However, with the constant change of consumer behaviour, we’d say this would be more than a tad dangerous. As consumers become more and more flippant the security that a website brings is even more invaluable.

It’s worth noting that over 40% of facebook users who like a brand during a campaign immediately ditch it afterwards *…so remember new friends are not always friends for life.

So…. How do you make it work? Social media, websites, smart phone technology… how does it all fit together? There is a real value in marketing multi-channel but it’s all about having a plan.

The answer comes in viewing your online presence as a whole and in starting to understand that the website is one destination designed to do a specific job. To make it work better, harder and smarter, brands must integrate it more into customers’ everyday lives and this is where other complementary channels come into play.

Website Vs Web Presence
A website is no longer the one and only destination for a consumer researching a product or service. It may still be the end destination before purchase but there are now many more steps along the way.

We don’t see the death of websites lurking on the horizon – Google search is still the first port of call for 75% of the market and with 16,000 searches per minute in the UK the website is still king.

However, there is definitely a real need for retailers to expand the reach of their websites, by getting to grips with more creative digital marketing as part of fuller, more integrated campaigns.

A Familiar Landing Place
Getting back to basics, the website is the place where it should all come together. After all, it has the familiarity of the old slippers that people still love coming home to and this is always going to be welcoming.

The secret is in not letting your website go stale, but in using new technologies to give it a fresh lease of life. Use your website as ‘the home of your brand’ and customers will be provided with everything they need. If they can research your products there, great. If they can buy them there, better. If they can read reviews of recommended products, ask questions, get engaged and excited, then your brand really come to life.

A New Look
Websites today needn’t look like websites of old – they can be more fluid, more dynamic, more individual for each visitor. With personalisation and the integration with social media, most retailers’ websites could be dramatically refreshed, providing a much improved customer experience and a much healthier set of figures for online revenue.

Fixing the Balance…
A bad website = A bad customer journey. This leads to high bounce rates, which equates to poor brand engagement. The customer then concludes that the website, and the brand, are a waste of time and the marketing team decide the website is a bad investment.

A good website = A great customer journey, which leads to customer advocacy & referrals and a strong brand engagement. This equates to a cost effective marketing channel and great ROI and an excitement about the future opportunities to be explored.

You can control which one of these scenarios you’re working to.

Websites are not going anywhere, but they do need to evolve. Use yours to support the growth and reputation of your brand and we’re sure you’ll be the best of friends for life.

* A survey by ad agency DDB Paris has found that as many as 40% of Facebook users who like a brand page during a campaign will ditch it immediately afterwards.

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Web Editor/Graphic Designer at 97.4 Rock FM and Magic 999am (Bauer Radio).
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