The high street is fighting back against e-tail dominance…
The economic crisis represented a turbulent time for the UK’s high streets. In 2008 alone, over 50 major retailers went into administration as internet outlets went head to head with them, offering more choice and cheaper prices. A marked drop in consumer spending combined with the vicious circle of fewer shoppers led to more store closures, further reducing shopper numbers.
Surprisingly, the pendulum has now swung back in the other direction. High street regeneration is a hot political topic, with a wide-reaching government review into business rates due next year and a raft of new independent shops opening. Two thirds of high street outlets are independent stores, often offering the sort of personalised service that online companies simply can’t match. Even formerly destitute brands like HMV and Jessops have risen from the ashes.
It is becoming increasingly challenging for an online-only brand to compete against resurgent town centres and high volumes of virtual competitors. All is not lost, though, these are some of the steps online and offline retailers can take to fight their corner:
- Click and collect.
Many people are growing weary of finding “sorry you were out” cards from parcel delivery firms on their door mats which could deter them from buying again. However, the rise in online orders that can be delivered to physical stores (rather than private homes or offices) may have presented a solution. Some small retailers such as newsagents allow their premises to serve as drop-off and collection points for parcels, combining the convenience of an online shop with the ability to bring home what you needed when you have time to collect it. By encouraging shoppers to come in-store to collect their parcels, retailers invite customers to do some additional opportunity shopping.
- Champion your independence.
Public anger about the tax affairs of multinational firms has encouraged many consumers to support smaller local companies. Any online retailer whose products overlap with those provided by Amazon (i.e. any online retailer), should focus on its website copy and marketing materials. By emphasising its local credentials they can show that they are more friendly compared to faceless global competitors.
- Focus on mobile access.
With the majority of websites being accessed from mobile devices, it’s absolutely imperative to ensure customers can make a purchase as easily (and reliably) on a tablet or smartphone as they can on a laptop or PC. Scalable website design can be achieved with HTML5, while speedy loading times and robust checkout functionalities are other essential components. Our website builder optimises your website for mobile use automatically.
- Optimise your content.
Although this applies to any website, it’s crucial for an online retailer to ensure its site can be found by people using search engines. Advertising through search engine platforms, professionally-undertaken SEO and blogs/news pages can all help achieve high ranking results.
- Prioritise service above everything else.
An online retailer could offer a million products and still fail spectacularly, as Amazon rival Value America discovered many years ago. Social media has given disgruntled customers a platform to register their complaints, and websites like Ciao and Reevoo specialise in providing a platform for reviews of brands and retailers as much as the products they sell. Every e-tailer should aim to get everything right first time (or at least have the capacity to right any wrongs in quick-time). Exceptional customer service will elevate a brand above the indifferent conveyor-belt approach of many high street retailers.
- If you can’t beat them…
Research by Royal Mail last year revealed that a sixth of the UK’s small-to-medium e-tailers are planning to open stores in the next year as a way of differentiating themselves from other online rivals. The multichannel combination of online and physical trading platforms can offer even fledgling brands the best of both worlds.
There are many retailers making a come-back on the high street, but there remains a legion of online shoppers ready and waiting to browse and purchase your products online. A website could complement your physical store by showcasing the products you have on offer, but giving buyers an option to buy online is good business practise in the digital age.