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Online Presence, Customer Understanding Key to Retailer Future

12 Jul, 2006 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Retailers need to adopt a strategy that includes an online presence and ways to better understand customers, said a panel of experts discussing the role of retailer facing ever-changing digital delivery.

Don Rosenberg, publisher of Home Media Retailing, moderated the discussion during Tuesday's opening session.

“Retailers have to find ways to congregate collective intelligence and resources of their consumers,” said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of file-sharing service BitTorrent. “It's a model that has been proven repeatedly as far as the Internet.”

BitTorrent, which recently inked content distribution deals with Warner Bros. Entertainment Group and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is one of the first peer-to-peer services trying to bring movies to digital distribution.

Navin said now is the time for retailers to learn about digital distribution and look at how other Web sites have approached the issue and how retailers could do it differently.Dean Wilson, head of business development at Blockbuster Inc., said retailers must accommodate the increased demands of upwards of 80,000 titles — instead of about 6,000 DVDs — that would be available on digital distribution.

“What is that interface going to be, and how are we going to keep that customer interested time after time?” Wilson said. He said the video retailer still has the “discovery” aspect of introducing new titles to consumers that has not been transformed to digital distribution.

Chuck van der Lee, president and CEO of Rogers Video, said consumers don't have the time to sort out competing entertainment options, and that's an advantage for the home entertainment retailer.

“Retailers can sift through that clutter and help them with what specifically it is they are interested in,” Van der Lee said. “There is still nothing like personal interaction, and that is one of the things our industry has done well. At this point, it's just time to find out what it is all about.”

Dean Garfield, EVP and CSO for the MPAA, said retailers should collect as much information about their customers, including e-mail address, to best formulate a two-way dialogue both in person and online.

“Spend time now to get to know your customer at a deeper level,” Garfield said.

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