Canadian retailers are joining the virtual mall that is cyberspace and winning awards for their efforts. The Third Annual Impact Awards were handed out at Internet World Canada in Toronto recently, with the Site of the Year going to the Canadian online bookstore, ChaptersGLOBE.com.
The ChaptersGLOBE site is Canada’s largest online bookstore but its mandate is broader than book selling. This Web site wants to be a “gathering place for book lovers”. From a functionality perspective it offers the largest selection of Canadian titles as well as reviews, discussion forums, an author centre, and community events all targeted at a reading community.
There is a natural fit between Internet technologies and book selling. Organizing and presenting books in various categories and allowing the visitor to search based on a number of criteria are easily implemented features of the Web. E-commerce makes the book-buying process simple and this online environment brings the availability of a large, centralized warehouse within the reach of any Canadian.
If the site reminds you of Barnes & Noble’s that’s not surprising, as Rick Segal, President of Chapters Internet, worked on the development of the Barnes & Noble Web site. In fact, the top five executive positions at Chapters Internet are all held by Internet professionals, with technical, new media or marketing backgrounds. This proves that you may not need to be steeped in the business to be successful on the Web. And thus competition in the E-commerce marketplace isn’t restricted to your existing competition.
HBC PUTS OUTDOORS ONLINE
Another retailer winning an Impact Award this year was Hudson’s Bay for their HBC Outfitter’s Web site ( www.hudsonsbayoutfitters.com). This site carries the feel of the Canadian outdoors to an online environment and, like their “bricks and mortar” stores, the Web site offers classic clothing and accessories made for outdoor adventurers. HBC Outfitters is a new concept for Hudson’s Bay, not only in retailing but in their use of the Internet to extend their reach and leverage the convergence between customers who shop at their stores and those who shop online.
Reporting directly to the CIO, Michael LeBlanc, Senior Manager of Interactive Retailing, is responsible for the Web site. His role is new and a hybrid of information technology and business. In fact LeBlanc says his job is 10 per cent technical and 90 per cent business. He reports into IS but is located on the corporate side, where he spends the bulk of his time with the people who run HBC Outfitters.
From a management perspective they have more than buy-in, they have a clear direction from the top through Bill Fields, their President and CEO. “Bill gets it!” says LeBlanc, “It’s not an overnight fad; the Internet is crucial to our business strategy.” Their plans are to beat the percentages estimated in the U.S., where 7 to 10 per cent of retailer revenues are expected to come from the Internet. With modest plans for the “bricks and mortar” stores, HBC Outfitters are targeting 30 per cent of revenues to come from the Web site.
There is also recognition that the Internet is an evolving medium where change brings new flexibility and opportunities. It is the ideal medium to support the one-to-one relationship with customers. Outbound email for marketing is wide open and the ease with which you can make changes means the site can be totally responsive to changes in product availability. But the power of the Web site really resides in the back-end systems. LeBlanc states, “it’s 5 per cent front end and 95 per cent back end. The majority of the power comes from integrating legacy systems.” The HBC Outfitters site is only part of the Internet story at Hudson’s Bay, as Zellers, their Club Z program, and other online ventures provided background experience in leveraging the Internet.
Cynthia Ross-Pedersen is a Web Strategist with Adeo Communications Corp., Toronto.