E-tailing by association

Is the e-tail wagging the dog? A while ago I needed to buy a rail ticket. I needed it fast. In my book, fast means Internet.

But I couldn’t remember that catchy little name for the ticket website. So I set to with search engine and optimistic abandon. I began with “Rail Tickets”. No luck. I tried “Train Tickets”, “Ticket Line”,”Rail Line”, “Rail Ticket Line”. No joy. In desperation I tried “Rail Travel” – “Railways” – “Tickets” – “Travel” – “Reservations” – “Bookings”.

I came across many sites and, truth to tell, I side-tracked a little to learn about the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Orient Express, but tickets? Nothing.

The success of any e-tailer has to depend, surely, on the customer recalling the service; what it offers and what it is called.

Accessing a website is not about popping in as you pass. It is about knowing what you want and going to where you will find it. I am not a patient person. I picked up the phone and dialled American Express Travel.

Since this unhappy episode I have noticed a few changes. The first thing is that e-tailers are spending more money to remind people of their names. The second is that search engines have added useful little explanations to the results of their searches (even though I still have to wade through 1,456 “matches” in order to find the site I’m after).

And thirdly some of the new e-tailers are adopting names that explain the service they offer.

There is something hauntingly familiar about all this. Are e-tailers simply proving once again how important clear and targeted marketing really is?

As a consumer, it seems to me that e-tailers need to get two main pieces of information across to me:

The precise service they offer and the name/location where the service can be found.

Armed with this, I will turn to the right e-tailer every time, whatever my needs. But there’s the rub. I simply cannot recall every useful site for all my needs.

Every site has to talk to me all the time so that at the precise moment I have a requirement for something, the sheer weight of exposure will mean that the site I need is at front of mind. A dream for the media owners; a financially demanding nightmare for the dot-com companies I suspect.

David Hall

Managing director

Brands United

London SW18

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