E-commerce: a chance to level the playing field

With more people shopping online, it is more important than ever for specialist retailers to make the most of e-commerce. Ian Jindal, an experienced multichannel retailer and editor-in-chief of Internet Retailing, explains how to create a successful strategy

Experts estimate that around 85.4% of the UK population shops online. In fact, shoppers now make 51% of their purchases online, compared with 48% in 2015 and 47% in 2014. It is a great time to be a shopper and it’s getting better all the time.

Never before has it been so easy to find and buy the retail products consumers want. Thanks to the growth of digital, and in particular m-commerce, consumers can check and compare product details and prices in just a few clicks, wherever they are. And with just a few keystrokes more, they can buy and arrange delivery.

Yet, with increased comfort, come increased expectations. Customers want to shop everywhere, anytime – whether that be in a bricks-and-mortar shop, on a laptop, desktop, mobile or tablet, 24/7.

Businesses of all sizes need to create an ‘always on’ omni-channel presence or mobile app to attract new and repeat customers. Many small businesses find this to be challenging. Nonetheless, it should be tackled as it’s an opportunity to level the playing field. Demand is growing and those who take the lead will win a competitive edge.

SMEs are more aware of the need but, if we analyse their adoption rates in recent years, there are still too low, primarily because of poor implementation and observation of their customers’ habits.

20 per cent of small and mid-sized firms that let customers buy their products and services online, according to the 2014 MasterCard MerchantScope study, 2014

One 2013 study found that British SMEs were moving online in order to be more competitive. The number of enterprises that created an e-commerce site increased by 19% in the first three months of that year.

The following year, MasterCard’s MerchantScope study showed that while 90% of small companies around the world had an online presence of some sort (though not necessarily a website), only one-in-five offered e-commerce capabilities. It found that small businesses are avoiding e-commerce for two main reasons: cost (46%) and lack of know-how (31%).

Today, despite the UK taking top place globally for e-commerce and fifth place for the availability of technology, it ranks only 14th in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology, with many companies struggling to digitise their businesses at the rate of peers in other countries.

Now the technology that powers e-commerce is mature, scalable and cheap, it is also easier to understand and to implement. As a result, more and more businesses should seize the opportunity of becoming digital.

Ten simple steps to success

  1. Have an online presence

An e-commerce website can be relatively cheap and is an effective way to reach a wider audience. There are off-the-shelf solutions that make adoption easier for merchants of all sizes.

  1. Go mobile

In the UK, 59% of online sales are now through smartphones or tablets. The smartphone is proving the prime, if not the only, driver of retail sales growth. In June 2016, according to IMRG, smartphone sales rose by 69% compared with the previous year. Having adaptable platforms from the beginning will make the investment less costly and much more effective. Provide a clear purchase path via smartphone and tablet and test them thoroughly.

  1. Enhance the online customer experience and journey

Focus on your customers and understand what they want. Whether on a website, mobile or tablet app, customers want to easily search for products, compare and buy them without hassle.

  1. Have solid operations and logistics

When orders start to take off, it’s important that solid logistics underpin the operations. Getting delivery right means traders win more sales, while those who don’t, miss out.

  1. Develop and strengthen your digital sales and marketing plan

Building a successful multichannel sales and marketing strategy is the key to e-commerce sales growth and success. Make sure messages are consistent across all channels and tailored to specific audiences – and remember to measure, test and learn.

  1. Be approachable through social media

Social media can be key. Not only is it a very powerful engagement tool, it allows brands to have conversations with their customers. Be selective about the ones the business has a presence on. Using them effectively to respond to customers can make a big difference.

  1. Expand your customer base through marketplaces

Marketplaces are now especially important for brands and retailers alike as they move into new markets. Retailers looking for new shoppers are now following shoppers onto the third-party platforms. For many, they are an increasingly important point of contact to reach beyond their loyal customer base.

  1. Know your customers

Personalisation is well-established key trend in e-commerce. Filter products or services to display items related to the customer’s previous purchases, buying habits or preferences. This engages them and keeps them coming back.

  1. Transform buyers into regulars

Keep an eye on customers’ satisfaction and perceived value of the experience they have when shopping with you. Work on a number of ways to add value and think of benefits to offer in exchange for their loyalty. When speaking to customers, online and on social media, give them a reason to come into the shop. Whether this is a percentage discount or complimentary treat, it will drive footfall.

  1. Learn from the leaders

Online commerce is transforming the global business landscape at an unprecedented rate, and successful e-commerce requires the ability to embrace change. People are going to be shopping faster and smarter, but the opportunities for SMEs are huge. Looking into what the big players in the industry are doing and adopting transferrable strategies to SMEs’ own business models can help retailers stay ahead of the curve.

  • Taking place on April 5-6 at the NEC Birmingham, this year’s InternetRetailing Expo we’ll be looking at trailblazers’ best strategies and new horizons for multichannel retail and e-fulfilment. Speakers from brands such as Alibaba Group, Google, Harrods, John Lewis, Mamas & Papas and Wickes will discuss latest trends in online commerce, market strategy and operations and best technologies to help retailers of all sizes expand their business.
    Find out more and register for free at www.internetretailingexpo.com
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