Nov 6, 2008

Hybrid-Channels Dominating Strategy Debates

Just as big branded product makers are getting their arms around reasonably consumer-friendly websites, the online world is demanding a more nuanced, and complex go-to-market response. It seems that consumers’ initial awe around the ease and efficiency of internet transactions – especially when compared to clunky, old, dusty retail environments and blue light specials – is being replaced with a more balanced view about the role of the Internet.

Consumers are still voracious users of online channels. But much of that activity is related to information gathering. Forrester research published as far back as 2004 has shown that over 60% of active online shoppers are frequently making the purchase offline through in-person channel options.

The key to optimal channel systems is recognizing that a channel system is not an all-or-nothing online vs. offline decision. It never was, but it certainly is not today. In today’s environment, branded product makers and retailers alike are being forced to separately evaluate each individual channel activity (or marketing flow) with regards to how and where it is performed. Should activity X be provided via an online mechanism? Via telephone? In-person infrastructure? So it goes for information activities, selection activities, buying activities, servicing activities.

So it’s not surprising that the best performing channel “systems” are hybrid. Some portions of the channel system online, others elsewhere. Sure, there will be pure plays. But those systems will see more and more flattening of sales as they settle in to their natural segment of buyers. It seems a major share of consumers want to learn online, discuss by phone, check in with friends back online, trial it at a store close to home on the weekend, get advice from an expert back online where they’ll make the payment, and then pick it up at a local store by their office a few days later.

That’s the type of hybrid we're going to see much more of. That’s back to the future of distribution.

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