WINNING PARTNERS, LOYALTY SEEN KEY TO WEB SUCCESS

NEW YORK -- Building customer loyalty on the Web is the key to establishing an on-line presence. Retailers should be brainstorming on how they can do more for their best on-line customers, particularly fostering relationships with non-competing retailers as well as manufacturers and other service providers, according to a panel of speakers at the National Retail Federation's Annual Convention and

NEW YORK -- Building customer loyalty on the Web is the key to establishing an on-line presence. Retailers should be brainstorming on how they can do more for their best on-line customers, particularly fostering relationships with non-competing retailers as well as manufacturers and other service providers, according to a panel of speakers at the National Retail Federation's Annual Convention and Expo held here last week.

"[Retailers] need to focus on data mining to make the on-line experience more meaningful for our customers," said Robert G. Tobin, president and chief executive officer of Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va. "We need to work on collaborative deals," he said, noting that retailers should be working with retailers outside their area.

"We will be partnering to help us beyond our core competencies," Tobin said.

He also said working closely with manufacturers and service providers to offer loyal on-line customers unique products is also an important next step for retailers looking to establish a relationship with on-line shoppers.

"We realize that e-commerce is an important part of our business moving forward, and we haven't had our heads in the sand. Building consumer loyalty is key. We've focused a lot on effective, efficient e-commerce. With our Stop & Shop subsidiary, we've built a business model that we will roll out to the enterprise, and we're ready to do that."

Peter Neupert, CEO of Drugstore.com, Bellevue, Wash., said building relationships with manufacturers would benefit all parties, including the customer.

"Forcing customers to go to many different brand sites doesn't meet the promise of the Web, which is to offer convenience and save time," he said.

While building relationships across multiple retail channels is desirable, technological limitations and systems incompatibilities are holding things back, according to a recent study by Deloitte Consulting, New York, a division of Deloitte & Touche LLP.

"The future requires building an effective relationship with consumers across channels," said Irwin Cohen, consumer business global managing director for Deloitte & Touche, New York. Manufacturers may fill the void if retailers do not act, he said.

Drugstore.com's Neupert expects on-line retailers to work with manufacturers on pricing, packaging and relationship marketing. "We can work with a manufacturer on a new product introduction. We can introduce a new product on the Web in a day. There could be one package for the store, one for on-line."

He also said retailers should look to build synergies between the on-line and brick-and-mortar worlds.

"We've really pioneered the hybrid. You can order from our site and pick up the order at Rite Aid. We've got to leverage the existing infrastructure to improve the customer experience," he said.

Getting customers to use the Web to replenish everyday items is critical to success. "You build a long-term lasting relationship that way," he said.

Neupert said more needs to be done to make the Web more conducive to repeat customers. "Perhaps reorganize the site based on what is on the customer's list, and letting the customer know when an item on their list is on sale. Or letting them know when their prescription is ready."