Interview with Retail Industry Veteran Kevin Ertell

Compete recently had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Ertell, a well known E-Business and Online Operations veteran. Most recently Kevin led the E-Business efforts at Borders and guided the highly successful launch of Borders.com. Prior to Borders Kevin was an SVP with Tower Records responsible for online operations.

Kevin shared his insights on everything from Border’s Magic Shelf to the impact of Mobile and use of Videos.

What’s the one thing Online Retailers should be paying attention to?

I believe customer satisfaction is the most important metric for any online retailer. Conversion rate is also important, but it’s getting to be a tricky number to calculate as more and more retailers use their sites for purposes beyond the buy button (as they should). For example, at Borders we found the standard conversion rate calculation of traffic/orders didn’t really work because we couldn’t correlate it to sales on the site because we used the site to host store coupons, video entertainment programming, Borders Rewards tracking, etc. So, if we wanted to focus on a metric that tracked our selling success, we needed to focus on the type of traffic that likely came with an intent to buy (or at least eliminate the type of traffic that came for other reasons). We ended up going with something we called "true conversion" that measured product page views/add to cart multiplied by checkout process starts/orders. This true conversion metric was far more correlative to orders than anything else, so it was the place to focus.

What are your thoughts on Retailers being Cross-Channel?

Many times, "multi-channel" and "cross-channel" are used interchangeably, but I don’t think they’re the same thing at all. "Multi-channel" is more than one channel while "cross-channel" is leveraging the strengths of each channel to create an overall customer experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, the web has many capabilities that are nearly impossible to achieve in store because of physical constraints. Customer reviews are extremely popular online and customers regularly report using them to make purchase decisions (both online and in store); however, they are very difficult to make available in a physical environment. Some retailers are making them available via in-store kiosks, but the kiosks are a large capital investment to make if they’re not already available. So, I think we’ll likely see more and more use of mobile phone technology to give people access to customer reviews, recommendations, wish lists, gift registries, etc. in store while they’re standing in front of the products.

What are you currently most intrigued by?

I’m really intrigued by the ideal of distributed shopping. We’ve all built our sites based on brick and mortar thinking, really. By that I mean that we build sites and then work hard to get people to come to our sites. However, the web doesn’t need to work that way. We can take our sites to where our customers are. Traditional retailers occasionally do this. For example, when I was at Tower Records we used to build stores in tents at music festivals like the Monterrey Jazz Festival and sell jazz CDs to jazz music aficionados who were there for the festival. However, those opportunities were logistically and financially difficult, so we could only do them for certain types of events. On the web, the logistics and costs can be almost insignificant to get to the most niche of audiences.

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