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Still Spending at Home

1 Jun, 2009 By: Bridget McCrea Response

Despite the economic climate, consumers continue to turn to shopping networks — especially their online arms — to feed their buying jones.

Stay Tuned

To combat those negative economic effects that have impacted the home shopping industry, most firms have reverted to a back-to-basics approach that focuses tightly on consumers' wants and needs, as well as their ability to afford those wants and needs.

"If anything, the current economy has brought us closer to our original strategies that made QVC successful from the outset," says Rose, "which is to invest in the customer experience, whether that takes place through a call center or on the Web. That's the bedrock that built the business, and it's more relevant than ever today."

At ShopNBC, Stewart says his team will continue to focus on growing its distribution, sales, profits and customer base. It will also introduce more mobile-oriented initiatives that take at least part of the shopping experience off the airwaves, says Stewart, who is confident that the firm's new management team will be able to break through any obstacles that the economy throws at it.

"We're pleased with how far we've come since August," says Stewart, who adds that ShopNBC's customer base is up 40 percent year-to-date, and that new customer growth is up 90 percent during the same period. "We're well poised for the future."

A New Kind of Home Shopping

Think back to a time when brick-and-mortar retailers were petrified at the thought of the Internet and its capability to lure customers that once schlepped down to the mall or boutique to buy an outfit, a piece of exercise equipment or a pair of shoes. It was the early-1990s, and the idea of those customers sitting at their computers, ordering the same products without ever having to step foot in a store, scared the average retailer to death.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the fears were largely unwarranted, namely due to the subsequent dot-com bust, and the way in which offline and online retailers eventually learned how to operate in spite of (or, in many cases, in conjunction with) one another. Now, a new online retailer is hoping to do exactly what many Web companies were trying not to do back in the early 1990s: bring online shoppers back to the retail stores to make their final purchases.

Pioneering the movement is NearbyNow, a Mountain View, Calif.-based digital personal shopping service, which recently unveiled its new shopping site designed for the growing number of consumers who prefer to shop online and purchase close to home. Through its Web site, the firm provides a multi-channel shopping experience that makes purchase of "soft goods" such as apparel, shoes and accessories, "more efficient, flexible and convenient, while benefiting retailers by driving more qualified traffic to their stores," says Scott Dunlap, CEO and founder.

Dunlap says industry research indicates that online searching drives offline sales, and that most consumers who search for a product online make the resulting purchase in-store. He adds that purchasing locally has many advantages, including immediate possession, assurance of fit and quality and no shipping charges. Yet according to a Boston Consulting Group study of leading multi-channel retailers, more than half indicated their online and offline inventories were not integrated.

That's where NearbyNow wants to fill the gap and enable retailers to engage online shoppers and convert them to in-store buyers through inventory visibility and personalized, real-time customer service. According to Dunlap, more than 65,000 stores nationwide are partnering with his new firm to enhance their multi-channel marketing programs and encourage customer loyalty.

The process is fairly simple: consumers log onto and search for products, brands or promotions and then check in-store availability at a convenient location. Using the online retailer's personalized digital concierge service, consumers can verify availability of specific sizes and colors within minutes and then place items on hold to be picked up at their convenience.

"Our goal is to help consumers find products that are nearby, so that they can head into the store, try them on and buy them," says Dunlap, who expects NearbyNow to cater to two different types of shoppers: the one who needs the item right now and can't wait for it to be shipped, and the one who dislikes returning items that don't meet expectations.

The question is, why start an online retailing firm, now in the middle of an economic recession? Dunlap says the reasoning is simple: both retailers and consumers need all the help they can get right now. Add in the fact that more consumers are researching their purchases before heading to the store, and you get the right backdrop for a company that can match the two entities together. "We help bridge the gap between the retailer who isn't carrying as much inventory," says Dunlap, "and the customer who needs a specific color or size."

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