"Social networks also offer small companies new opportunities" - Interview with Achim Himmelreich, BVDW / Mücke, Sturm & Company

Multi-Channel Solutions

You will participate at the EuroCIS in the Multichannel Forum as a speaker. Your topic: Multichannel is turning into Everywhere Commerce. What do you mean by that?

The term multichannel implies that you operate separate channels in different ways. Everywhere Commerce on the other hand means that the selling process is designed in a cross-channel and cross-device manner.

E-Commerce turns into M-Commerce. What does this mean for brick and mortar businesses?

The emergence of E-Commerce introduced the “digital revolution“ to the business world – mail order companies turned into e-shops or online stores and new players like Amazon appeared – only the brick and mortar businesses were “left out“ as it were. For all intents and purposes, Smartphones are now filling the missing link: retailers can manage to lead customers to their stores thanks to location-based services. This way brick and mortar businesses are now also integrated into the digital economy.

Does multichannel marketing really open up new markets? After all, consumers don’t just automatically have more disposable income?

No, the market is only growing very moderately, at least as far as Germany is concerned. This means that this will lead to redistribution between successful and less successful companies. In this structural change there are going to be clear winners and losers.

Does every little retailer now have to join Twitter and Facebook? For whom do social networks not pay off?

No they don’t have to join, but in the future it will become relevant for an ever increasing number of them. Social networks are irrelevant for companies whose target audience is not active in social networks.

Is social commerce only a thing for retailers with a younger target audience? Are senior citizens ever going to twitter and read user comments?

Obviously young people are more active on social networks than older people. However, the new generations of equipment like tablets for example go along with senior citizens making their way into the Internet for the first time ever. And portals like TripAdvisor are also being used by older people.

All of the networks have started as a platform for personal friends. Now they are becoming more and more commercialized. Do users accept this fact?

Yes they do, step by step. What’s important here is that the commercial data is dosed just right and that it is relevant.

StudiVZ and SchülerVZ (comment: these are German online networks for students) collapse while Facebook becomes more powerful. Which platforms will be interesting to retailers in the future? Are there some promising consumer portals out there?

Der Markt für soziale Netzwerke weist alle Kriterien eines „Winner-takes-it-all-Marktes“ auf, so dass Facebook der Quasi-Monopolist ist. Facebook besitzt daher auch die höchste Relevanz für Unternehmen. Daneben existieren aber eine Reihe von erfolgreichen Branchenportalen – siehe das Beispiel Tripadvisor.

Are social networks only suited for communication purposes? Or are they also turning into a sales channel?

They are primarily suited for communication. This includes customer service, marketing and PR but also customer inclusion into the development process. However, they are rarely a sales channel in the traditional sense. Their role in building sales connections should however by no means be underestimated.

Which strategy do you recommend for retailers who want to get in on social commerce?

First off they should take a look at which networks their target group is active in and what is being discussed there. During the next step you should join the existing communication and gather some experience. Based on these experiences you should determine a social media strategy as your third step in the process. In any case, I advise against rushing into this and thinking “we now have to hurry and be on Facebook“.

Which retailers do you see as role models in terms of E-Commerce expansion into the social Web?

Nike, Starbucks, Vapiano, Dell and Diesel can be pointed out as great examples.

And the other way around: what mistakes should you definitely avoid? What have companies done wrong in your opinion?

The rule for communication on social networks is: honesty, candor, transparency and authenticity. These “laws“ were and are still often being broken by companies placing professional marketing messages in the networks or by giving fake ratings.

The interlocking between stores and online shops is not easy. Where are the difficulties if you add social media to the mix?

The difficulties on the one hand are in IT integration, since you have to join new systems with older inventory management systems that have developed and grown over time. On the other hand there are enormous cultural challenges, since now you have to convey a broader mindset to associates, who so far were isolated and had to only think and act in their one channel. The use of social media makes the situation even more complicated, because the employees first need to learn how to use it and then they also need to learn how to forget: they have to let go of the traditional way of talking and learn to open up and communicate with the customer.

Many companies are afraid of malevolent user comments. How high is this risk in reality?

Actually, you always had to take this risk – but now the social networks make it more transparent. And this always gives you the chance to respond to it. If you do this in an open and authentic way, it can be seen more as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

How can you measure the success of multichannel marketing? After all, the channels cannot be analyzed separately or can they?

For starters, you can obviously measure the development of the overall success. In addition you have the chance to analyze so-called “customer journeys“ via different channels. The more often the customer for instance gets his information via the Net and then buys at the point-of-sale, the more successful the concept is. If you really track the “customer’s journey through the channels“, you can work out a whole number of valuable key data.

And finally: what are you going to take a look at during the EuroCIS?

The Multichannel Forum by the ECC of course.

René Schellbach,