Integrating the online and offline worlds

The line between online and offline is disappearing. Companies (some, anyway) are getting better at understanding how to use online tools to integrate into their operations and customer experiences.

Best Buy hasn't yet. I tried ordering something from Best Buy for Christmas. I chose instore pickup. I went to the store to pick it up. I waited in line for 15 minutes without anyone showing up at the special "in store pickup" counter before leaving the line, picking up the product off the shelf, going to regular checkout, then going home and cancelling the original order (which was tough to do with Best Buy's site broken). That is not a good experience for customers. Clearly they don't "get" the online space.

Progressive does get it. After a new car purchase I was able to go online to change vehicles, all online, all in a matter of about three minutes. They even told me the new insurance rate and the difference between that and my old rate. They get it.

ING Direct gets it. They allow management of account products (CDs, how to renew, moving money between accounts). They have sensible security precautions. It's a breeze to use (and good rates to boot). I've tried to set up new accounts at FNBO Direct and WTDirect, only to find that those banks don't get it. FBNO Direct has a weird login name policy, and neither has the ability to manage money easily. WTDirect doesn't even save bank account information when transferring money - you have to re-enter it every time.

Amazon has an amazing return experience. If a product is broken, I go to amazon.com, tell amazon I want to return an order due to a defect. They give me a label to print out, I package the item back up, put the label on it, set the package by the front door, and wait for UPS/Fedex to pick it up. In the meantime they are shipping a replacement item right away. Not only is that a great experience, it's better than what brick-and-mortar retailers can offer. Retailers need to understand the benchmark Amazon has set and reset their bar.

In the end, companies that "get" how to use online tools to enhance their customer experiences will win, and will win big.

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