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Customer Empowerment

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Customer Empowerment The Choice is Yours The Internet has permanently changed the relationship between consumers and the retail industry. Electronic commerce has provided consumers with more options, more alternatives and more opportunities than ever before. Consumers are no longer limited to physically visiting "main street" or "big-box" retailers. Instead, they are able to choose from products and services from companies large and small, located all over the world, without leaving their homes. Tangible points of comparison between retailers, which now can be automatically aggregated by software buying agents in seconds, include more than selection and price. Shipping costs, return policies, privacy practices and personalization of products are examples of tangible points of comparison. Equally as important are intangible points of comparison, specifically the customer experience. Everything from the look and feel of the home page to the shopping and buying process defines this experience. It encompasses everything the customer sees, clicks, reads, or otherwise interacts with. The customer experience is the key to dotcom survival. i Consider the options available at the Land's End Web site. Consumers can browse the catalog online or shop with a friend, speak with a customer representative on the phone or online, create a model to try on clothes virtually, ask questions about specific products, place an order and track past orders. Concern over the customer experience has clearly driven the design of the Land's End business model, creating numerous options unavailable in the physical world. Of course, this overlooks the most powerful and fundamental option to consumers on the Internet: the ability to leave one store and enter another within seconds. And if a satisfactory purchase cannot be made, online auctions provide alternative shopping venues that directly compete with many traditional retailers. Central to the creation of a positive, unique and personalized shopping experience are technologies employed to remember customer preferences. Tracked preferences help expedite, and sometimes fully automate, the shopping process while offering targeted marketing and discounts. ...read more.


Sites are held accountable by current law to abide by their privacy policy. Thus, it is truly a question of trust, and to help ensure that trust the industry has created third-party compliance organizations, such as BBBOnline and TRUSTe, to provide a viable method of ensuring that privacy policies are upheld. Despite the criticism that these organizations are not achieving ubiquity online, the large number of pending Web site applications indicate that both the compliance organizations and the applicant companies take the compliance process very seriously. Once again, newly empowered consumers fully understand that it is the best interest of any company to protect customer privacy, driving change in the market. For those companies that have chosen to ignore consumer preferences and not pursue proactive, responsive privacy practices, the market, through the collective actions of empowered, educated consumers, has a solution. But perhaps more importantly, current privacy law in this country also takes into consideration special types of information that deserve greater protection than shoe sizes and favorite hobbies. The sector-by-sector approach allows sensitive information -- medical, financial, credit, academic and children's data -- to be protected in ways most appropriate for each industry. States have flexibility in responding to their own constituents' preferences. These laws apply to both online and offline collection and provide consumers protection for their most sensitive and personal information. Industry agrees that calls for privacy legislation are both premature and potentially damaging. Business models are evolving. The market is changing. Consumers are exercising their growing power, and companies are working to find new ways to educate consumers on ways to ensure that their power is effectively exercised to shape online privacy practices. Given the rapid change, many feel it is inappropriate for the government to dictate which models will succeed and which will not. In the next twelve months, industry will continue to educate consumers about their choices and sites that do not effectively respond to online consumer preferences will simply fade away Ask your Mom if she wishes she had electronic commerce back when you were a kid. ...read more.


This store's products are more traditional, but their service is generally good. For the last few months, however, I have been having difficulty buying oranges. More times than not, when I get to the checkout counter, the price for oranges will be wrong-usually higher. Correcting this is inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing when there is a line of customers behind me. I have mentioned this to the produce people, but the problem still exists. A couple of nights ago I confronted one of the produce people again about the pricing problem, and pointed out another obvious error. To their credit, they handled me well, and worked with me to correct the problem. It finally took a manager to make a phone call and straighten out the pricing. While the manager was phoning the other store, I talked with the young man in produce. He said that these juice oranges weren't selling because the price was just too high (because of the pricing error). I asked him if he could change it and he said no. He also knew that they would be throwing out the oranges soon if they didn't sell. His frustration in not being able to correct such an obvious problem in his own department was evident. The Lesson. I tell these two contrasting stories because they relate directly to customer satisfaction and profitability as a function of employee empowerment. Two good grocery chains with two very different approaches to management. At Fresh Fields, every employee is aware of his or her impact on profit and is empowered to take independent action to maximize it. The decision to give two expensive cookies to a customer is not an insignificant decision. It is a business decision that may influence the relationship between a store and its customer. Unfortunately, it is a decision that most employees in traditionally managed organizations have no authority to make. My hope is that these two examples will clearly show how customers and profits can be won or lost when employees are enabled to take ownership of day-to-day problems. Once again, it just makes sense. ...read more.

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