It's high time retailer web sites really brought to the fore the marketing firepower of the big brands says Gabrielle Baron Why should brand owners care about retailer e-commerce strategy ­ it is the retailer's web site, used to build the retailer's image and business, right? Wrong! But this is a common misconception which stems from underestimating the influence a web site can have on prospective shoppers (consumers who use the net as a source of information) and actual shoppers (those who actually purchase over the net). At the very least a web site is a source of information for the prospective shopper. A stage one' web site translates company information onto the net and prospective shoppers can use it for price comparisons, checking the availability of products and brands they are looking for. Once they have found what they are looking for, they buy it in a brick and mortar store. Asda's web site is an example: it displays special offers and activities, nutritional information, recipes and store locations to guide shoppers. A list of top 20 promoted brands heads the home page. Then themes such as Football 2000 contain additional offers. Snickers Ice Cream is currently featured at £1.58 with a pack shot. A stage two' web site has become a true point of purchase': the purchase decision is made in front of the screen (PC or TV). The screen has thus replaced the traditional shelf or counter in store and both the shopping basket and the cash register have become virtual. Sainsbury's and Iceland's web sites are examples of this. Iceland has a deal feature' section currently showing Magnum Classic and McVitie's Cheesecake on buy one get one free offer. At this stage, all we see is a simple pack photograph ­ no brand proposition or motivational or creative treatment. Sainsbury, on the other hand, uses dropdown boxes containing extensive lists of items and prices ­ good information provision but not at all interesting or easy to make a choice from ­ certainly not an informed choice. And there are also examples of stage three' web sites: companies such as and are exploiting the advantages of an interactive medium. Information flows both ways and they capture information about consumers and shoppers to be used for more targeted marketing and promotion activities. Here the true importance of C2B' and its future potential become obvious. Tesco Direct has evolved from a stage two' to a stage three' web site. While basic grocery information is displayed by category, special attention is given to important target shoppers such as mothers (baby and toddler category) and younger people (CDs and videos). Even books, computers and mortgages have been added to the assortment, ensuring that Tesco offers solutions to shoppers' concerns and problems. Promotional offers can be tailored based on specific groups' needs from evaluating the information gathered via loyalty cards. In the US, Netgrocer's web site has special areas dedicated to, for instance, the diabetic shopper. Whether the site is used purely as a source of information or as a point of purchase, it is part of not only the retailer's image but just as much of the manufacturer's presence. Tesco's site is one of the best at laying out offers and providing brand owners with opportunities to project their products. But again, this seems limited to straightforward pack shots and promotional flashes like we see in doordrop coupons and flyers. It's all very utilitarian and suggests that brand owners are being given the opportunity to feature their promotions but not to use retailer web sites as a communication vehicle in the way they do via other media. So how should brand owners influence the retailer's e-commerce strategy? We believe the process is the same as that for any traditional category management or joint working project. Based on a common interest of building the business and recognising brands can play a key role in this, both retailer and manufacturer derive benefits from acknowledging that the point of purchase is a joint responsibility. It and the web site helps the retailer differentiate itself from competitors by offering targeted solutions for its shoppers: this includes range/assortment and thus brands, but also pricing, promotions and display/merchandising. The point of purchase helps the manufacturer to build a competitive edge in targeted stores. Defining and using the optimal fit between the brands' consumer profile and the retailers' shopper profile is key. Kraft, for instance, has a dedicated solutions centre' on the Netgrocer site. The brand owner, with its knowledge of motivating consumers to respond through images, movement, personality and copy must surely have more of a role to play in getting browsers to fill their virtual baskets with their products. This is the real win-win that has yet to be captured by the grocery trade. Gabrielle Baron is a director of consulting at Glendinning Management Consultants {{MANAGEMENT FEATURE }}