Interactive functions

Interactive use of the Internet involves more than simply the provision of promotional information. It includes activities such as ordering of catalogues, promotional literature and 'free gifts' and encouraging customers to provide market research data as well as sales ordering and payment transactions. Interactive ways of using the Internet and the web include:

• Marketing communications tool - the Internet is frequently used as an advertising channel. Traditional advertising channels such as broadcasting and print media enable a one-to-many dialogue based on communications theory (Schramm, 1955) between senders and receivers. The communication process is normally constrained by time, namely the speed of response of participants, but communication can become 'conversations at electronic speeds' if conducted via interactive services such as the Internet (Fill, 1999).

• Direct communication - as an interactive channel for direct communication and data exchange the Internet enables focused targeting and segmentation opportunities for more closely monitoring consumer behaviour. E-mail provides a direct non-intrusive means of communication between firm and customer.

• Online communities - are also developing on the web and facilitating interaction between individuals and companies. Car manufactures such as Citroen and Volkswagen support many enthusiasts' sites in order to reinforce the emotional bonds between the product and the consumer via the web.

Marketing research tool - the Internet's interactivity facilitates the collection of consumer data, providing the opportunity to gather personal information from online consumers while they browse through web sites, complete online questionnaires and respond to e-mails.

• Sales channel - the selling of goods and services online can take several different forms: the order is placed online while the delivery and payment are made through real-world channels; online ordering where the delivery of goods is required in the real world and the payment facility has options online or offline; the total process, namely the order, payment and delivery of the product occurs via the Internet.

In summary, businesses may choose to utilise the Internet and the web in a number of different ways to communicate and interact with their online consumers. The particular methods that they adopt to build an online brand may vary, from just providing information to online transactions including ordering and payment for goods and services. Issues relating to how e-retailers are using information and interactive content to build online brands is discussed in more detail in Case Study 10.

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