UK retail sales have been in the news recently, and for once, its good news. But how much is it to do with the stores themselves and what can other businesses learn from how retailers have had to transform themselves in recent years?
There is a rationale behind thinking that traditional bricks and mortar retailers are becoming a thing of the past, and in some respects they are - at least in the traditional sense. 63% of online shoppers ordered three or more gifts online last Christmas.
On the other hand, research reveals that multichannel retailers with bricks and mortar stores are perceived as more reliable and trustworthy than their online-only rivals, highlighting the importance of a physical part to the proposition. But therein lies the keyword: part. A physical store has become a part of the overall business proposition, rather than the part. Or to put it a different way: the shop floor is now one channel in a TV guide containing many channels.
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So what's on the other channels?
Incorporating a website to run alongside a physical store is nothing new for large retailers. Argos' online channel accounted for 43% of its sales in the first half of 2013/14.
However, an ‘e-shop' isn't just a vehicle for large retailers, it is now an important element for many small and medium-sized businesses. Even the accountancy and legal professions are coming to terms with clients' desire to access services online with the growth in online tax returns and 'DIY' legal documents.
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The ability to access a wider range of customers is an opportunity that few businesses can afford to pass up.
A website doesn't necessarily have to be utilised as a place to sell products directly. Aldi and Lidl did record business last Christmas and continue to grow rapidly in the UK, but good luck visiting one of their websites and trying to buy something. For them, the website is about communicating information to customers about the latest products and services, and in turn encouraging people into the stores. Research shows that 9 out of 10 customers research a product online before buying - and this is far from exclusive to retail.
Have you ever gone into a store and chosen a product only to be told: "Sorry it's not in stock". Click and collect allows customers to guarantee stock before even entering the store and is a great example of two different channels working together. John Lewis saw a 61.8% rise in online sales as a result of introducing click and collect.
You are sure to have been asked for your personal details when buying something in-store: post code, email address, maybe even twitter handle. An email address is a very valuable piece of information as it's an accurate and cost-effective way to communicate with customers. Matching products from a receipt with the email address allows for more targeted and effective emails by offering products based on previous purchases.
Email is also a great way to promote offers that help drive up footfall or website visitors at certain times of the year.
Can you name one high-profile retailer who doesn't have a social media presence? Social media networks give retailers the opportunity to communicate with millions of customers on mass or on a one-to-one basis. Twitter, Google+ etc. all help increase reach and reduce marketing costs. Social media is arguably even more beneficial for smaller retailers. The lower cost and increased reach of social media allows independents to compete on a more level playing field, and helps free up funds that can be invested back into the business for other activities.
There are no rules to dictate how many channels should be used, and this is by no means a complete list, but it is about getting the right mix for your business. Business is no longer one dimensional, it's evolving in every sector, so now's the time to start thinking about what your future looks like.
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