E-commerce expert Ian Jindal (pictured) warns that with e-commerce and mobile retail growing fast, retailers must focus on their digital strategy and how they can make the most of this channel in the future
There has been huge growth in e-commerce over the past 10 years and, by now, it is a well-established channel, accounting for 20% of UK firms’ turnover. The KBB industry is no exception to this. According to digital marketing expert eMarketer, online sales of furniture and home furnishing products is expected to rise from $18 billion (£13.8bn) in 2013 to about $32bn in 2018.
Customers today believe they will get a better price online than in-store and decide to carry out their research and shopping online. This has made the digital world a battlefield for small and big retailers to compete with each other, not only within the UK, but in Europe. For example, it is a tendency now for many UK shoppers to turn to German retailers such as Reuter.de (previously known as Reuter Badshop) instead of local ones to get better deals.
The omni-channel landscape will continue to change. After the UK’s decision to leave the EU, ending its 43-year membership, there was a huge amount of speculation surrounding the possible impact this will have for different industries. One thing is certain, though, there will inevitably be new challenges, as well as opportunities, for retailers to capitalise on it.
For local retailers to remain competitive, a contingency plan needs to be put in place. Forward thinking is needed to foresee what new horizons are coming into sight and what key trends will keep on transforming internet commerce.
Retailers in the kitchen and bathroom industry need to anticipate both their customers’ actual and future needs, wants and habits. So, where should these retailers now focus their attention to optimise their digital strategy as they plan for a more uncertain and competitive future?
In the UK, mobile commerce is rapidly growing and is proving to be a key driver of retail sales growth. In June 2016, according to IMRG figures, mobile sales rose by 69% compared with the previous year. That contributed to 17% growth in overall online sales.
Bigger smartphone screens, mobile-optimised websites and easier payment processes have helped facilitate the increase in mobile commerce sales. Previously, shopping on your mobile was a difficult and complex task. However, now you can select, order and pay for goods and services with just a few easy clicks.
For example, US home-improvement specialist and Internet Retailing UK Top 500 retailer Wayfair, has seen great growth in its e-commerce sales and this has largely been driven by its mobile offering. Thirty-eight per cent of all orders placed during Q2 of 2016 for the company were made on mobile devices.
Wayfair is further investing in its mobile presence with the launch of its augmented reality (AR) app next month, which allows users to view appliances for sale on Wayfair as if placed throughout their home. Such innovation attracts more consumers to mobile commerce and offers them a feature that they would otherwise not have been able to get online or even in-store.
Matalan, another recognised IRUK Top 500 retailer, has also focused on the e-commerce retail market as part of its expansion. The retailer, more known for its fashion and homewares offerings, has opened an online-only store, Matalan Direct, selling bathroom fixtures and bathroom furniture. This shows that not only are retailers offering their products online, but that the online channel is at times leading the way as retailers explore new product offerings.
Opening an online-only store offers Matalan significant cost savings, particularly given the fact that bathroom showrooms require substantial floor space. This allows Matalan to offer consumers greater choice, while also remaining affordable.
In future, individual retailers will keep innovation at their core to consider even more deeply how mobile can best work for their businesses.
Marketplaces have proven to be a great shopping platform for consumers, with a wide offer range of new and second-hand products, as well as great value prices. For this reason, it is no surprise that leading marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon, have become so popular with consumers, and are now household names worth billions of pounds.
Marketplaces are important for retailers as well, as they move into new markets. Retailers that are looking to attract new customers are increasingly making themselves more visible and partnering with various online marketplaces, often specific to new regions. For instance, Tmall and its parent company Alibaba are often used by European brands who are looking to gain access to the Chinese market
Marketplaces are also a great opportunity for independent sellers or manufacturers, offering them a platform to showcase their products. We are increasingly seeing more marketplace vendors specialising in bathroom and kitchen appliances, with vendors establishing a reputable presence on marketplaces such as Amazon. For example, iBathUK has an established presence on both Amazon and eBay, with more than 280,000 sales on the two platforms.
The lower overheads associated with marketplaces allow vendors, such as iBathUK, to offer their customers greater value and lower prices and the added benefit of the review system, gives consumers the confidence to believe in the product and to trust the vendor.
Traders developing strategies around marketplaces will need to be asking questions about how they can best make these sites work for them. How, for example, do they fit into their international strategies? How should they adapt their merchandising and data collection, as they look to make the most not only of the new customers that marketplaces bring them, but also of the information they can gain about this new market and how customers see the brand?
Marketplaces may be a useful part of engaging with shoppers in new markets, but they’re likely to be only a part of the strategy.
To truly grow, retailers need to expand their offering, so they can reach customers across the globe. International sales have often been limited in the bathroom and kitchen retail industry, due to the potential difficulties in logistics for large items.
So retailers such as Wayfair have expanded their operations and now cater for the US, UK, Canada and Germany through specific websites, tailored to each territory. They also have distribution centres in each country, increasing proximity to consumers, improving delivery speed and saving money.
The UK’s exit from the EU has resulted in the value of the British pound falling against the euro. This will make British products and goods cheaper for European customers, potentially increasing the sales from that region.
UK retailers need to take advantage of this by actively promoting their products to European consumers online and also keeping an eye on the future, setting a long-term plan to foresee repercussions regarding foreign providers and materials used.
- Mobile, marketplaces and international strategy are just some of the new horizons that will be explored at the 11th annual Internet Retailing Conference, taking place at Novotel, Hammersmith in London on October 12. www.internetretailingconference.com
- By Ian Jindal, experienced multichannel retailer and editor-in-chief of Internet Retailing