Dabs.com in 2005
In 2005, dabs.com is a £200 million company with 235
staff, holding 15,000 lines for a customer base of almost
1.5 million and processing around 5000 customer orders
every day. Dabs.com has 8m visits a month from around
750,000 unique users. Its catalogue contains 20,000 prod-
ucts with laptops, LCD monitors and external hard drives
among the main sales lines.
NCC (2005) reports that dabs.com believes that what its
customers require is a dynamic site that provides compre-
hensive information on its product ranges, delivery charges,
returns policy, financing services and rewards scheme. It
also provides dabs.tv, a video service that allows
customers to see more complex products in greater detail.
Jonathan Wall, Dab’s marketing director, sees security
as important as part of the customer experience, and to
protect the business, he says:
We were one of the first e-businesses to adopt Visa’s
‘Verified by Visa’ 3D secure payment authentication
system and we’ve also implemented MasterCard’s
SecureCode variant. We’ve always worked closely with
both credit card companies and it’s a concern that
dates back to our mail order side. The threat of being
attacked and defrauded is always in the forefront of our
To ensure delivery as promised, Jonathan Wall explains
the importance dabs.com attach to IT:
We invest as much in our highly automated warehouse as
we do in our marketing. Our systems use a sophisticated
combination of dynamic bins and unique product num-
bering. A lot of the management team come from
technical backgrounds. Our back office system was writ-
ten in OpenVMS by our IT director. Our sales processing
system was written in-house.
According to NCC (2005), staff skills are viewed as impor-
tant from technology staff, to product buyers. Wall says:
We pay a higher than average salary, and that means
we get a higher level of staff. And we really see the
effect of that in the way our buyers and merchandisers
approach the market.
Dabs.com ended offline sales in September 2001, after
online sales reached half of turnover. This enabled it to
reduce costs. Although its consumer sales are online,
dabs.com does retain a call centre for customer service
and account management services for its business clients
who spend £15,000 or more per year. Excellence in
customer service is also seen as part of the customer
experience and helps dabs.com reduce complaints to
trading standards officers compared to some of its online
rivals such as eBuyer.com.
Europe is the next challenge: the company launched
Dabs.fr in France in 2004. But all will depend on its ability
to adapt quickly to any changes in customer behaviour.
The 2003 site update
In 2003, dabs.com achieved a year-on-year profits rise
from £2.5m to £5.1m and sales rise from £150m to
£200m. It predicted the growth will continue, with sales
reaching £350m in 2005. Dabs has about one million
unique visitors monthly and adds a further 30,000 new
users every month. This success has been achieved in
just 4 years from the launch of its first transactional site in
1999. The site reassures each visitor, by the scale of its
success. On 5 December it read:
37,093 orders in December
21,289 products available for sale.
Dabs’s marketing director, Jonathan Wall, talking to IT
Week (2003) explained how the initial growth occurred,
and how future growth will be sustained: ‘We dominate
the PC hobbyist/ IT professional sector, but our business
must evolve. We want to cast our net further so that we
are appealing to people who are interested in technology
as a whole. New customers need a new approach. We
have built a new environment and a new web site for this
In mid-2003 dabs.com launched a site to help it
achieve sales to the new audience. Research was used to
help develop the new site. The usability of the existing
web site was tested and the new concept was also shown
to a focus group. After analysing the responses Dabs
created a pilot site, which the same focus group then
approved. In total, the new site took 10 months to develop
and was an investment of £750,000.
The 2005 site update
NCC (2005) says Wall makes the business case for the
new site as follows:
Our new site will take us right up there to the top of the
field, you have to try and stay ahead. We’ll have guided
navigation, still quite rare on a UK site, which will help
customers to find what they’re looking for more intu-
itively. Early e-commerce customers knew that they
specifically wanted a Sony Vaio laptop, for example.
New customers just know that they want a laptop that’s
small and fast and costs less than £1,000. Guided navi-
gation means they can search according to a product’s
attributes rather than specific brands and models.
Since the average selling price of laptops is going down,
slim margins are decreased further. Wall says: ‘Selling elec-
tronic equipment on the web has traditionally been passive
but by redesigning our site we’ll be able to show customers
what another extra £50 spent on a laptop will buy them.’
CHAPTER 7 · DELIVERING THE ONLINE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Although the previous site was only updated 2 years
ago, he describes the need to keep ahead of competitors
as ‘a cat and mouse thing’.
But new site advances must be combined with com-
petitive prices, Wall says:
Online customers are price-loyal, not retailer-loyal. The
customer is only as loyal as the cheapest price they can
pay for a product. It means your competitors are only
ever one click away. We have to do everything to keep
our customers on our site. Getting them to pay that
price to you, rather than your competitor, means that
you’ll need to exploit the constantly-evolving benefits
of digital technology to make their buying experience
on your site as fluent and satisfactory as possible.
On-site search capabilities
Part of the new site is improved on-site search capabilities
from Endeca, which powers the search of Walmart and
Circuit City sites in the US. Search is important to increas-
ing conversion rates, and so increasing sales, since if a
user is not presented with a relevant product when they
search, they are likely to try another retailer. The search
capability should strike a balance between delivering too
many results and too few. Channel Register (2005) reports
that dabs.com hopes to increase conversion rate by up to
50% by updating the site’s search and navigation fea-
tures. The current conversion rate is 3.5% and it is hoped
this will be increased to nearer 5%.
Endeca’s new search allows users to select products
by attributes including price, brand and even size and
weight. This method of narrowing down the search should
result in the customer being left to choose from a list of 10
or 20 products rather than hundreds.
Another aspect of the business case for the new site is
to ensure the customer makes the right decision since
product returns are costly for dabs.com and annoying for
Dabs.com marketing director Jonathan Wall explained:
‘When we launched the website in 1999 people knew
what they wanted. Now we find a large tranche of cus-
tomers might know the type of product they want to buy
but not which model they want. The new site is about
guiding them through the process.’
Since dabs.com has tech-savvy customers, it has to sup-
port them as they adopt new ways of browsing.
Dabs.com found that by 1995 nearly a fifth of its users
were using the Mozilla Firefox browser, so a further
requirement for the new site was to make it accessible to
users browsing with a range of browsers such as Firefox,
Opera and Apple’s Safari.
Marketing communications approaches used by dabs.com
are summarised in Chapter 8 in Mini Case Study 8.5
‘Electronic retailers cut back on their e-communications
spend’. For customer acquisition, the main communications
tools that are used are:
Search engine marketing (the main investment)
Referrals from affiliates (this has been reduced)
Online display advertising on third-party sites (limited)
Sponsorship (shirt sponsorship for Premiership team
Sources: Channel Register (2005), IT Week (2003), NCC (2005)
The management of dabs.com have invested in
several major upgrades to its online presence in
order to improve the online customer experience.
Assess the reasons for the need to invest in site
upgrades by referring to the dabs.com example. To
what extent do you think major, regular site
upgrades are inevitable?
Compare the quality of the online customer experi-
ence of dabs.com by visiting the site and those of
its competitors such as www
. Explain the categories of crite-
ria you have used to make your assessment.
An effective online customer experience is dependent on many factors, including the
visual elements of the site design and how it has been designed for usability, accessi-
bility and performance.
Careful planning and execution of web site implementation is important, in order
to avoid the need for extensive reworking at a later stage if the design proves to
CHAPTER 7 · DELIVERING THE ONLINE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Implementation is not an isolated process; it should be integrated with the Internet
marketing strategy. Analysis, design and implementation should occur repeatedly in
an iterative, prototyping approach based on usability testing that involves the client
and the users to produce an effective design.
A feasibility study should take place before the initiation of a major web site project.
A feasibility study will assess:
the costs and benefits of the project;
the difficulty of achieving management and staff commitment to the project;
the availability of domain names to support the project;
the responsibilities and stages necessary for a successful project.
The choice of host for a web site should be considered carefully since this will govern
the quality of service of the web site.
Options for analysis of users’ requirements for a web site include:
interviews with marketing staff;
questionnaire sent to companies;
usability and accessibility testing;
informal interviews with key accounts;
reviewing competitors’ web sites.
The design phase of developing a web site includes specification of:
the information architecture or structure of the web site using techniques such as
site maps, blueprints and wireframes;
the flow, controlled by the navigation and menu options;
the graphic design and brand identity;
the service quality of online forms and e-mail messages.
Explain the term ‘prototyping’ in relation to web site creation.
What tasks should managers undertake during initiation of a web page?
What is domain name registration?
List the factors that determine web site ‘flow’.
Explain the structure of an HTML document and the concept of ‘tags’.
List the options for designing web site menu options.
What is a hierarchical web site structure?
What are the factors that control the performance of a web site?
Essay and discussion questions
Discuss the relative effectiveness of the different methods of assessing the customers’ needs
for a web site.
Select three web sites of your choice and compare their design effectiveness. You should
describe design features such as navigation, structure and graphic design.
Explain how strategy, analysis, design and implementation of a web site should be integrated
through a prototyping approach. Describe the merits and problems of the prototyping approach.
When designing the interactive services of a web site such as online forms and e-mails to
customers, what steps should the designer take to provide a quality service to customers?
What is web site prototyping? Give three benefits of this approach.
What controls on a web site project are introduced at the initiation phase of the project?
A company is selecting an ISP. Explain:
(a) what an ISP is;
(b) which factors will affect the quality of service delivered by the ISP.
How are focus groups used to gain understanding of customer expectations of a web site?
Name, and briefly explain, four characteristics of the information content of a site that will
govern whether a customer is likely to return to that web site.
When the graphic design and page layout of a web site are being described, what different
factors associated with type and set-up of a PC and its software should the designer take
What is meant by ‘opt-in’? Why should it be taken into account as part of web site design?
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CHAPTER 8 · INTERACTIVE MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
After reading this chapter, the reader should be able to:
Assess the difference in communications characteristics between
digital and traditional media
Identify effective methods for online and offline promotion
Understand the importance of integrating online and offline
Relate promotion techniques to methods of measuring site
Questions for marketers
Key questions for marketing managers related to this chapter are:
What are the new types of interactive marketing communications
tools I can use?
How do their characteristics differ from those of traditional media?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of these promotional tools?
How do I choose the best mix of online and offline communications
Links to other chapters
Related chapters are:
Chapter 1 describes the 6 Is, a framework that introduces the
characteristics of Internet marketing communications
Chapter 2 introduces portals and search engines – one of the
methods of online traffic building discussed in this chapter
Chapter 3 introduces some of the legal and ethical constraints on
online marketing communications
Chapter 4 provides the strategic basis for Internet marketing
Chapter 6 describes on-site communications
Chapter 9 also considers the measurement of communications
The characteristics of
Integrated Internet marketing
Objectives and measurement
for interactive marketing
Offline promotion techniques
Online promotion techniques
1 Search engine marketing
2 Online PR R 384
3 Online partnerships s 388
4 Interactive advertising g 391
5 E-mail marketing g 397
6 Viral marketing g 400
Selecting the optimal
communications mix 403
Case study 8
Making FMCG brands sizzle
Chapter at a glance
A company that has developed a great online customer experience as discussed in Chapter
7 is only part-way to achieving successful Internet marketing outcomes. In the days of the
dot-com boom a common expression was: ‘If you build it, they will come’. This famous line
proved true of a baseball stadium built in the 1989 film Field of Dreams, but unfortunately,
it doesn't apply to web sites. Berthon et al. (1998) make the analogy with a trade fair. Here,
there will be many companies at different stands promoting their products and services.
Effective promotion and achieving visibility of the stand is necessary to attract some of the
many show visitors to that stand. Similarly, if you want to maximise quality visitors
within a target audience to a web site to acquire new customers online, Internet marketers
have to select the appropriate online and offline marketing communications techniques
which are summarised in Figure 8.1 and form the core of this chapter. This is a major chal-
lenge since there are tens of millions of web sites with many pages, each vying to attract
an audience – Google indexes over 20 billion pages.
Before reviewing the principles and success factors in deploying the communications
tools shown in Figure 8.1 we start by considering the unique characteristics of digital
media which we must apply for success and look at approaches for setting objectives for
and tracking the success of interactive communications.
The three main objectives and tactics of developing an interactive marketing commu-
nications programme for Internet marketing are to:
Figure 8.1 Options available in the communications mix for increasing visitors to a web
2 Online PR
• Media alerting services
• Portal representation
• Blogs and RSS
• Community C2C posts
3 Online partnerships
• Affiliate marketing
1 Search marketing
• Search engine
• Pay Per Click (PPC)
• Trusted feed
5 Opt-in e-mail
• Cold (rented list)
• Co-branded e-mail
• 3rd-party e-newsletters
• House list e-mails
6 Viral marketing
• Pass-along e-mails
• Prompted e-mail a friend
• Media mentions
4 Interactive ads
• Display ads/banners
6. Direct mail
2. Personal selling
3. Sales promotion
1 use online and offline promotion to drive quality visitors or traffic to a web site;
2 use on-site communications to deliver an effective, relevant message to the visitor
which helps shape customer perceptions or achieve a required marketing outcome
through conversion marketing;
3 integrate all communications channels to help achieve marketing objectives by sup-
porting mixed-mode buying.
Through understanding the key interactive communications characteristics enabled
through digital media we can exploit these media while guarding against their weak-
nesses. In this section, we will describe eight key changes in the media characteristics
between traditional and new media. Note that the 6 Is in Chapter 1 provide an alterna-
tive framework that is useful for evaluating the differences between traditional media
and new media.
1 From push to pull
Traditional media such as print, TV and radio are push media, one-way streets where
information is mainly unidirectional, from company to customer unless direct response
elements are built in. In contrast, the web is an example of pull media. This is its biggest
strength and its biggest weakness. It is a strength since pull means that prospects and
customers only visit a web site when it enters their head to do so, when they have a
defined need – they are proactive and self-selecting. But this is a weakness since online
pull means marketers have less control than in traditional communications where the
message is pushed out to a defined audience. What are the e-marketing implications of
the pull medium? First, we need to provide the physical stimuli to encourage visits to
web sites. This may mean traditional ads, direct mail or physical reminders. Second, we
need to ensure our site is optimised for search engines – it is registered and is ranked
highly on relevant keyword searches. Third, e-mail is important – this is an online push
medium, and it should be a priority objective of web site design to capture customers’ e-
mail addresses in order that opt-in e-mail can be used to push relevant and timely
messages to customers. All these techniques are described further later in this chapter.
2 From monologue to dialogue
Creating a dialogue through interactivity is the next important feature of the web and dig-
ital media such as mobile and interactive TV which provide the opportunity for two-way
interaction with the customer. This is a key distinguishing feature of the medium accord-
ing to Peters (1998), and Deighton (1996) proclaimed the interactive benefits of the
Internet as a means of developing long-term relationships with customers as described in
Chapter 6. For example, if a registered customer requests information, or orders a particu-
lar product, it will be possible for the supplier to contact them in future using e-mail or
personalised web messages with details of new offers related to their specific interest.
But digital dialogues have a less obvious benefit also – intelligence. Interactive tools
for customer self-help can help collect intelligence – clickstream analysis recorded in
web analytics can help us build up valuable pictures of customer preferences.
CHAPTER 8 · INTERACTIVE MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
techniques used to
generate web site
such as print and TV
advertising used to
generate web site
purchase decision is
influenced by a range
of media such as print,
TV and Internet.
broadcast from an
consumers of the
message who are
The consumer is
proactive in selection of
the message through
actively seeking out a
The characteristics of interactive marketing communications
The medium enables a
company and customer.
3 From one-to-many to one-to-some and one-to-one
Traditional push communications are one-to-many, from one company to many cus-
tomers, often the same message to different segments and often poorly targeted. With
digital media ‘one-to-some’ – reaching a niche or micro-segment becomes more practical
– e-marketers can afford to tailor and target their message to different segments through
providing different site content or e-mail for different audiences through mass customi-
sation and personalisation (Chapter 6). Note that many brochureware sites do not take
full advantage of the Internet and merely use the web to replicate other media channels
by delivering a uniform message.
Potentially digital media provide a one-to-one communication (from company to cus-
tomer) rather than the one-to-many communication (from company to customers) that is
traditional in marketing using the mass media, such as newspapers or television. Figure 8.2
illustrates the interaction between an organisation (O) communicating a message (M) to
customers (C) for a single-step flow of communication. It is apparent that for traditional
mass marketing in (a) a single message (M
) is communicated to all customers (C
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF INTERACTIVE MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
Mass customisation is
the creation of tailored
marketing messages or
products for individual
customers or groups of
using technology to
retain the economies of
scale and the capacity
of mass marketing or
customised content for
the individual through
web pages, e-mail or
Figure 8.2 The differences between one-to-many and one-to-one communication using
the Internet (organisation (O), communicating a message (M) to customers (C))
(a) Traditional one-to-many
mass marketing communication
(b) One-to-one Internet-based
(c) Many-to-many communications via the Internet medium
M = Communicating a message
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested