Having won a temporary pass from IR Towers to a seaside retreat with cable TV, Ian Jindal is watching Olympic synchronised diving as the rain beats against the windows and thinking of peak season…The Olympics are an extraordinary event. Not solely for the obvious (and barely-understood) commitment and expertise of the athletes but for the emergence of a new form of human being: Homo Potatum Sofum Expertatis, sometimes known by its common name, the ‘couch potato’.
Being inactive while watching telly is not that remarkable. Rather, it’s the peculiar quadrennial transformation into a sporting expert that defies accepted ideas of evolution. I’d never seen synchronised diving before, but I can note with great accuracy the differences in body line, the perfection of the piked position and the miniscule timing differences in breaking the surface… Humans have evolved to be able to identify tiny differences in patterns, even if most of us lack the ability to make our bodies work to those fine tolerances.
My mind slipped back to thinking about retail, and I realised that the armchair critic is no match for the uncaring, critical, always-right customer!
In the battle to extract cash from the recession-constricted wallets of our visitors etailers are resorting to a near-permanent sale, free delivery, deeper additional discounts… and all the while Christmas is coming and we need to gear up for peak.
Is this our Olympic relay race? We have the highly-honed and much practised disciplines of logistics, buying, marketing and technology, all at peak form after over 4 years of “working” ecommerce. However, if the team play and baton-passing is not the equal of the individuals then the customer notices. “98% performance”” gains no credit for the hard work and expertise: rather, the ‘2% deficit’ is noticed and punished.
Characteristic of the ‘mature stage of ecommerce’ is that customers have now experienced expertise – either from you or (painfully) from your competitors. Unfortunately, the expert etailer gets little explicit praise, save for an increased retention and net promoter [tm] ranking. That retailer’s competitors however suffer silently – the silence of being shunned. Customer may still come to your site, from habit, curiosity or expensive CPA tactics but upon arrival your site suddenly seems to lack lustre, that certain Gold Medal je ne sais quoi, the allure of the champion. Second division. Vauxhall Conference. Amateur.
The first symptom of underperformance is a perplexing drop in conversion rates. Blame the recession, blame holidays, wait for the new season’s stock, fire up another affiliate… Somehow, though, the medal positions are always filled by your competitors… While we all clap politely and are pleased with ecommerce’s resilience – the ‘rise in popularity of our sport’, if you will – it’s of zero consolation to the true competitor, for whom it’s medals or nothing.
With peak season imminent, what are our options? The first point is not to start anything new or risky: this is a time for a perfect drill rather than a practice match. The next is to coach each of your skilled players in working to their maximum capabilities – practice at peak enables performance at peak. Finally, make sure that your training camp includes cross-discipline practice and communication. With high pressure and high stakes it’s all too easy for people to fall back into their own areas and leave the overall problem to ‘someone else’. But as Potatus Expertatis knows, it’s the tiny cracks and flaws that mark the teams down from gold, rather than the the flashes of isolated brilliance moving them up.
Peak success will be from Gold-standard teams, working flawlessly and consistently together to deliver under pressure against the etailing elite. No amount of free delivery and empty promises can win the Christmas Olympics.
To the victor the spoils.