The Online Catalogue as the most powerful tool for B2B e-commerce companies which fosters a better sales funnel

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The Death of the High Street

It can’t have escaped your notice that the High Street is dying. What were once busy hubs of human interaction and the trading of goods, have in many places become dreary, unpleasant semi ghost towns. Not quite as bad as tumbleweeds bowling down the street to strains of Ennio Morricone but certainly it has contributed to crime levels in its descent to a mix of coffee shops, charity shops and very little else. Even the big names have felt the pinch and many gone to the wall. There are several reasons but the loudest voice is: “it’s the internet” And that voice is correct of course.

Of all you can buy on the High Street, and the choice is getting narrower by the day. Some places have reached the tipping point and many have gone over the edge. But more and more of these centres are reaching that point and as fewer people turn up to shop, the narrower the choice gets, so fewer people shop there. If there were a programme which combined an MBA with biology it would be a perfect example of a “positive feedback loop” or vicious circle. The professors could take the students to the High Street to see this phenomenon in action, gathering pace every day.

Yes, there is the model where the shop is simply a showpiece for where the sales really take place (i.e. on the internet). However, I think this is flawed. As Debenhams in the UK has recently found out to its cost. It is a massive cost for comparatively little benefit. 165 large Department stores in the UK and they will all be gone in a month, 6 months? 2 years? It is quite amazing how the managers never saw the writing on the wall.

I have personal experience here. I had a few hours to kill in a medium sized city so bought some clothes. Wandered into Debenhams. Yes, I know you are asking why? Yes, the clothes were awful. But I at last solved the mystery of where women over 60 find those shapeless awful nylon “trousers” Anyway I digress. I saw a merino jumper I liked. Could I find a staffed till? No. Then I remembered a few years ago I had TWICE tried to buy a pair of shoes. Same problem. I remembered my promise “never to go there again” but in the meantime had forgotten. You don’t need management consultants to work out why Debenhams is where it is today.

“It’s the Internet, Stupid”

I find it hard to imagine anyone really choosing to buy electrical goods on the high street unless they are over 60. People go, look, check it out and buy it online. Mobile phone shops seem to be hanging on. The curious one is the clothing sector. Certain sections of the community enjoy the experience of clothes shopping. And after all, one does have to try things on for style, fit and so on.

However, whilst there are diehards who will always love to do this, much of the rest of the world has taken advantage of the price differentials available on the internet for clothes, the convenience of delivery with no city centre parking costs, no crowds, free returns and perhaps most importantly the almost limitless choice compared to even the best High Streets.

A word of warning here though, don’t try the internet for footwear. I did. It was a disaster.

So, a typical High Street in 10 years will consist of 50 empty shops, 30 converted to accommodation, 10 charity shops, 5 coffee shops, 2 mobile phone shops, 2 derelict. And a shoe shop.

So, everything is online. That is where the competition is. That is where you must differentiate.

The Online Catalogue

I’m talking B2C here but there is no fundamental difference with B2B.

We’ve all had the experience of tracking down a product online, the price and style and other factors all seem to be right, there is just a matter of finding the right item and paying for it. Simple! And then you get into the dreaded catalogue. Everything looks ok, you have categories, sort criteria, pictures. You get the picture. Then you get the problems:

Assuming everything works then what?

There are too many categories which take an age to wade through, then after all that time spent defining exactly what you want. You find there are no items like that –

There are too few categories, so an enormous list comes up and after scrolling for a few minutes you give up –

The pictures are too small to show details, or not enough of them, or the resolution is too small –

The site is too clunky and difficult to navigate, and possibly ugly –

The site is too pretty, oh yes it looks lovely, but is just too confusing to get around. Not quite as bad as a utility website where it takes 10 minutes to find their contact details (they REALLY don’t want you to contact them) –

Lack of streamlining –

Lack of overall vision and strategy, it looks very much as if too many bits have been just added on –

Lack of integration –

Lack of description of the product (or too much) –

Lack of or difficulty finding secondary information (delivery times, stock level etc) –

Do I really need a new coat? Maybe I’ll have another look next month

The internet has its problems as well as the High Street but they are easily and cheaply solved and a good online catalogue is essential to the Sales process.

Sometimes you just know. Call it intuition. You see a site and you just know it is going to work, and give you what you want, easily and painlessly, and maybe you even don’t mind paying a bit more for that. You know you can go in and shop like a man. Go in, get product, Leave. They way a user experience really should be.

This is the way it should be done:

The Company:

The Case Study:

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