Avon has set up two ways to buy its products online, one directly from the company (Avon.com), and one through fairly standardized Web sites for its sales representatives (YourAvon.com).
In effect, Avon is competing against its Avon ladies.
The ladies’ sites have all the products that are in each Avon catalog to sell, whichmay include sweaters and bug repellent. But Avon.com still sells the full line ofcosmetics, fragrances and toiletries for which the company is known.
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Avon.com does allow buyers to cut in a rep for a piece of the action. But it does soat the very end of the sales process, with an optional response offered to buyers.There’s not a serious attempt to direct the buyer first to a rep, which is odd for acompany that wants its online strategy to be “rep-centric.”
“They’re cannibalizing themselves offering shopping online without offering theirreps (to customers) right from the home page,” says Geri Spieler, a Web designanalyst with Gartner Group, a research firm. “It’s their advantage over Revlon orL’Oreal. Avon’s making a mistake by having two different sites in Avon.com andYourAvon.com.”
Finding an E-Rep
“There should be a zip code input box right on the Avon.com home page. Instead I hadto click through two pages of ‘Find an E-Representative’. Then it asked me for myusername and passwordI didn’t have one yet,” notes Spieler. “Next, it wanted me tofill out a form. I don’t want to give all that infoall I want is to find a rep in mycommunity.”
“It would be easy to solve the difference between Avon.com and YourAvon.com, and makesure this was a rep-centric strategy,” explains Bruce Arnstein, Director ofOperations at Richard A. Eisner & Co. LLP. “On Avon.com, you’d just askfirstthingwhat you rep’s name was or (for some) other ID.”
But it’s not always so easy. Len Edwards, the president of Avon.com, said the intentin early 2000 was to come up with one big integrated site. That proved too hard totackle; so the company decided to let Avon.com be the outlet for so-called “channelrejecters”customers who do not want to buy through representatives.
The rejecters “don’t want someone knocking on their door. They don’t want to dealwith anybody. They want the anonymous experience of going to a store and buying whatthey want and walking away,” Edwards says.
Atpresent, the design of the Avon.com and YourAvon.com sites appears to favor those”rejecters.”
In three steps, customers can start looking at products to buy; and only aftershopping does Avon.com ask the customer to identify herself.
The Avon.com site tries to give you the feeling of having that beauty adviser lookingover your shoulder while you’re shopping. But technology and design isn’t used tomake Avon.com personal. One test we tried was sending a question concerning a colorshade from the Avon.com site through the “Email Us” link. After three days, theresponse suggested contacting a representative to see the color chartsigned “AvonInformation Center.” Not signed Ashley, not Jessica. This is a missed opportunity forthe site (and Avon) to feel more human, more personal.
If the idea of Avon.com is to not “have someone knocking” on the doors of rejecters,the site should answer all the needs of the “rejecters” online. If there is to be ahuman link, then link to a live Avon rep on the other end of an instant chat.
If you want to buy from an Avon sales rep online, you first have to say who you are,and then it will take about a half-dozen steps before you start looking at anyproducts to buy.
That’s due in large part to the attempt by YourAvon.com to faithfully replicate theactual pages of the Avon catalog online.
The YourAvon.com site provides shopping via their catalogs. You choose which catalogyou want to shop from and then see images of the spread catalog. You can flip throughpage by page or by the table of contents. The large images are slow to download; theshopping process is tedious.
YourAvon.com is the site that will allow you to shop with a rep ID following youaround the site. You can easily ask questions by e-mailing your rep.
Yet many rep bios are empty. That needs to be fixed. By contrast, Avon.com lets acustomer browse by product name and shows individual, small product images. Imagesare much faster to load and navigation leads buyers to products they want, or to seewhat’s new.
“It’s silly and very expensive to have so many different Web sites, a bit behind thetimes. They’ll eventually come to that conclusion,” said Andrew Rudin, Partner atRichard A. Eisner & Co. LLP. “I think ultimately they want people to go to Avon.com.”
What Avon Is Doing Right
“Avon may have worked out a way to have its cake and eat it, too,” explained LairdMiller who has worked as a Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather and Foote, Cone +Belding. “Avon.com is a new opportunity to market directly to the consumer, whileYourAvon.com respects the valuable existing Avon/Rep/Customer relationship.”
Avon.com is more effective from a selling standpoint than MaryKay.com. On the MaryKay site you can’t get anywhere without choosing a rep. And consumers can’t purchaseonline at MaryKay.com at allno credit card, no e-commerce. You can only place anorder on the rep site and wait for your rep to presumably call you for a credit cardnumber.
“Avon.com opens a new acquisition channel to the customer who either doesn’t have anAvon representative or doesn’t want one,” Miller says.
Susan Plonka is a principal of Plonka Interactive, a Web development agency inDallas. She can be reached at [email protected]