A spokesman described the move as a ‘natural evolution’ that will help differientiate the service from BBC Online. The idea is to encourage consumers onto the web and offer a safe environment in which to shop. This may benefit concerned shoppers, who may be too nervous to purchase with a relatively unknown etailer but would trust a product which, theoretically, is recommended by the BBC.
Naturally, the brand association is good for any retailer, but they can also also gain access to a wider audience – one which is more likely to be loyal and receptive, and could increase with a reputed multi-million pound television campaign on commercial TV next year.
beeb.com says it will provide the necessary context and advice through its content areas, such as car-buying advice from Top Gear’s Quentin Wilson. But will this be enough? According to a recent report from Fletcher, consumers need qood quality advice online. Consumers need to know where they can get the best price, compare the selling points of individual products and read impartial comment on the quality of individual retailers’ service. With programmes like Watchdog in the BBC’s broadcast schedule, Beeb.com might be missing a trick in omitting a facility that even FocusDigital’s ShopSmart and Asda’s Valuemad don’t currently offer.
The speed at which the online world moves can be liberating for some companies – witness MSN’s last minute decision to drop its subscription channel service and move into the portal arena. So long as you are offering a valuable and believable service, consumers can often make a similar shift and follow your online strategy. Get it wrong, however, and you risk ruining your brand, reputation and confusing your potential audience. And if your brand is as big and as valuable as the BBC’s, then you risk damaging the image of the internet and ecommerce as a whole.
Whatever the outcome, the beeb’s move is yet another example of how the internet allows companies to make rapid changes to their online strategy – in its case, a complete overhaul. Initially a broadcaster, beeb.com is now a shopping mall, moving into the realms of retail along with the likes of other media owners such as the Guardian’s Shopping Unlimited and the Independent’s shopping guide housed on its site. And most recently, Richard Branson has announced he’s ploughing 50m into the creation of a Virgin.com shopping portal next year which will sell, amongst other things, cut-price cars.
However, Beeb.com has a far bigger brand reputation to protect. While The Independent and Guardian Unlimited naturally intend to provide quality advice, beeb.com will have, for many, an association with the BBC – and the BBC is not just a content provider. The BBC has a worldwide reputation for quality, authority and excellence. The BBC, BBC Online, and beeb.com may all operate separately, but the public’s perception can be very different. beeb.com’s output as an ESP (ecommerce service provider) will have to live up to the same high standards as it’s broadcast output – or else the entire industry will lose out.
Customer service still losing out
Whether a retailer, content provider or ISP, one of the most essential parts of the business – and one of the most obvious – is good customer service.
So why aren’t online services getting it right? A survey just out from Jupiter Communications found the level of customer support offered is actually declining, with only 37% of companies surveyed including three or more customer service channels on their sites. Worse still, the number of email queries being answered has decreased from last year with a staggering 46% of all sites tested either not responding for five days or more, not responding at all, or not even including contact details on their sites for customer queries.
The fact that these figures are worse than last year – considering the level of growth experienced in the past 12 months – is unacceptable. It seems that while everyone is rushing to get their services online, something had to give and it just happened to be the customer. News of bad experiences is shared very quickly, especially with new users whose concerns may be too easily confirmed So, while companies happily spend millions marketing their services to acquire customers, they are still reluctant to invest in something more useful, such as retaining them. It’s an old and exhausted argument, but one that looks set to continue until the trend of increasingly bad service comes to an end.