In the run up to Christmas, analysts expect the percentage of online retail sales to continue to grow, from £13.7 billion in 2017 to £15.8 billion in 2018. Much of this revenue has gone to ecommerce giants, such as Amazon.
Why haven’t high street retailers been able to adapt and stake a claim to increased sales? Partly it is down to a ‘them and us’ mentality between online and offline – which means the two sides of the business are not always supporting each other. But the positive news is that taking a more holistic view enables traditional retailers to exploit the advantages of a high street presence and fuse them with their ecommerce operations.
If they want to fight back high street retailers need to look at five key areas in order to thrive in an increasingly blended ecommerce world:
1. Use online to drive in-store sales
Offering click and collect helps traditional retailers maximise their hybrid model, bringing online shoppers into high street stores. And it is vital to maximise this. So don’t just view your physical shops as mere collection and drop-off points in this process, but really look at how you can drive more purchases. Optimise your store layout to increase sales, and ensure your staff are trained to support shoppers who collecting, returning or exchanging online purchases, such as by offering complementary products.
2. Focus on the data
Everyone understands the importance of data to ecommerce, but the high street also generates a great deal of information that can give high street retailers an additional edge. Make sure you are sharing data about customers between teams and channels to maximise the overall sales opportunity.
For example, if online data shows a spike in demand for certain products or brands in particular postcodes or neighbourhoods, ensure they are available on the shelves in local shops. In other words personalise the offline store with data from online sales.
At the same time use offline purchase data from in-store customers to personalise the ecommerce experience. The content and offers consumers see when they go online should take account of the purchases they might have made in-store.
3. Focus on personal service
Given their long histories, many bricks and mortar retail brands have created a strong bond with customers that should be used to increase loyalty. While retailers have to offer the products that customers want, at the right price, they should also focus on the personal service they provide. That is relatively easy to achieve on the high street, where shop staff are on hand to help and give advice, but online it can be more difficult.
However, smart use of online behavioural data can mean retailers are able to offer relevant, personalised product recommendations to consumers in a similar way to an attentive shop assistant. By analysing each shopper’s online activity and employing self-learning algorithms, it’s possible to accurately predict what products and offers consumers are most likely to be interested in. And, like most AI, the more customer journeys that are analysed, the better the technology becomes at offering people the most relevant recommendations.
4. Be true to your brand
It’s always been important for retailers to differentiate themselves from their rivals. But in the age of ecommerce, where your competitors are only a couple of clicks away, it’s more important than ever. Every retailer must therefore recognise their product/brand market fit – what are the unique benefits they bring? Understand what makes your brand/business different and drive the focus on these areas. For example, it might be customer service (John Lewis), speed of delivery and price (Bulk Powders) or luxury and choice (Harrods).
5. Make online and offline speak as one
The same customers that visit your website will also be walking into your physical stores. That means that they expect the offline and online user experience to be seamless. Showcase any local in-store promotions to online customers who live in the area, for example, and ensure your in-store staff are totally up to date with what is happening on your website, so that they can support online sales.
Unlike your website, your bricks and mortar store will have a limit on the products it can have on display. Therefore, rather than lose customers to rivals if they can’t find what they are looking for in-store, make use of the endless aisles concept, with screens or apps available to allow customers to go online and purchase when in your shops. Train your staff so that they understand and support this, rather than seeing it as a rival for ‘their’ sales.
Next year Amazon celebrates its 25th birthday. The impact of its rise, and the growth of ecommerce, has transformed the high street. If traditional retailers are to survive and thrive they need to look at how combining offline and online can deliver more than the sum of its parts. Focusing on data, a seamless experience and breaking down silos is therefore vital to their future success.