Napoleon said the English are a nation of shop owners – but that was back in 1776…since then a British man invented the internet and the British are amongst the world’s top users of the internet per capita.
This year (2019) analysts predict that for the first time ever in the UK, online sales will overtake shop sales, with the majority of browsing and purchases being carried out on mobile devices such as smart phone and tablets.
So, what does this mean for our high streets and how can retailers ensure they don’t miss out on a slice of this increasing online market?
Whilst this latest prediction will leave a lot of retail shop owners shaking in their shoes, for a relatively small financial investment, having an online ecommerce website, if done correctly will increase sales.
For most retail business to not only survive, but also to prosper, it’s no longer adequate to simply rely on footfall and loyal customers. With modern life styles often making it difficult for people to shop during normal hours, it makes sense for any retail business to offer their products to new and existing customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
As with any business it pays to regularly monitor, review and if necessary, to adapt, and in light of this recent news, it’s clearly very important for owners of retail shops to be proactive by firstly having an ecommerce website and secondly, making sure the website is modern, engaging and aimed at the business’s target market.
However, simply having an ecommerce website isn’t going to be the saviour of any business. In the same way as many retail shops will have local competition and therefore need to find away to promote themselves locally, the internet will have many times more competition than at local level.
In order to get a slice of the increasing online sales, it is therefore exceptionally important to stand out from the crowd, to try and do things bigger and better than the competition. One way to achieve this is to avoid templated, packaged ecommerce solutions such as Shopify and have a bespoke website built.
As the majority of online sales are carried out using mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones, it goes without saying that a website needs to be ‘responsive’ (mobile-friendly). A bespoke website offers far more flexibility in both the overall design and the development of unique features to ensure the website will stand out from the crowd. More importantly, well built bespoke websites tend to be far better to optimise for search engines and therefore, are more likely to be found by potential customers carrying out online searches.
But unless the products on offer are exceptionally niche, even the best built websites in the world are going to struggle to compete against online retail giants such as Amazon and Ebay. So, what to do? The best advice would be ‘if you can’t beat them join them’. As well as selling through a physical retail shop and an online ecommerce shop, to achieve maximum exposure retailers should also consider a multi-channel sales approach through third party websites such as eBay, Amazon and Google shopping. Whilst these are not always as profitable as selling directly, it does provide businesses with the best chance of selling their products.
In order to get the most of an ecommerce website it’s important to make sure people know it exists. There are numerous ways to promote websites and a combination of both off-line and on-line marketing strategies should be employed.
Businesses should ensure their existing customer base is aware they can now buy online directly from them. If there is a database of customers available - and providing communication with them isn’t in breach of GDPR, contact them to let them know. Make sure any signage, stationery, promotional material and advertising has the website address clearly displayed.
It may be worth considering taking on a marketing company who can advise and help with the online promotion of the website, which will often include improving the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) of the website for key words and phrases, setting up and managing Pay Per Click (PPC) and Social Media campaigns, along with strategies for global sales opportunities such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Finally, in order to operate competitively in the online world of commerce, its extremely important there is an infrastructure in place to deal with orders quickly and efficiently. With next day delivery becoming the norm, businesses need to keep and manage an accurate stock control system and be able to package products ready for delivery within a very short window of time.
It’s a lot of work and as well as taking up time, it will also tie up funds. To succeed online it’s imperative that there is a realistic budget set, not only to cover the cost of the website development but also for the ongoing promotion. However, done correctly the rewards can considerably outweigh the effort.
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