Let’s make multi-channel retailing a by line for a strong independent retail sector.

I’ve just had sight of the latest eCommerce Europe press release and it makes for exciting reading. It gets really exciting if you’re a retailer and even more so if you are getting, or have plans to get, your slice of the pie. The question though is how many retailers are getting their share and if they are not then why not?

Five years ago for many independent retailers the web and eCommerce were asides and worthy of note but it seemed little else. Those that did venture online usually did so by getting a web site built and in all probability collected customers e mail addresses. They did this because it was what you were meant to do and let’s face it, it was fashionable. But what about a return? What about the fact that getting a site built was the easy part and maintenance and management was really where the skill set was required?

Here we all are in 2013 and it seems many independent retailers are more aware than ever of the need to get online. However the game has changed and it’s no longer enough to simply get a web site developed. What is required is a full multi-channel approach to retailing. This can all get a bit scary if you’re an independent retailer without the expertise or budgets of the larger operators who have whole departments given over to eCommerce. But I’d argue that because the Tesco’s, Next’s and Debenham’s of this world have placed such importance on the sector it is now a necessity for independent retail to do the same.

This is where it gets difficult however and insecurity and doubt can enter the equation. Do we have the budgets, do we have the expertise and, in all probability the biggest limiting factor, do we have the time?

Well I believe we do. If you buy into that then we can move the debate forward and start focusing on what makes independent retail great and the many advantages it has in the eCommerce sector.

Let’s start with the fact that independent retail is operated by people who are passionate about retail. That passion might wane for individuals periodically but overall I believe that to be true. If retailers were not, then in all probability they’d put all the hassles behind them and go work for a large multiple and draw a wage every week. That passion usually means they possess product knowledge and service levels superior to the larger chains and online only operators.

Independent retail is not just about commerce as they populate town centres and high streets as opposed to the larger out of town centres. They provide a social hub and fabric as opposed to a giant grey box on the edge of town.

If we look at independent retail as a group then the advantages it has over the oft times bland and uniformed approach taken by the chains is indisputable. But how do we get that message across? How do we let the consumer know that independent retail can offer individuality, range of product and price as well as service levels that leave the chains and large operators in the shade? We would say by taking a strength in numbers approach. Independent retailer’s competition is no longer the boutique or corner shop down the road it’s the multi-channel giants such as Debenham’s et al and the online operators such as ASOS. By taking a new collaborative approach then independent retail can package and market themselves to a wider audience. As I always believed I’d much rather have my largest competitor next door then two miles away. At least then I can compete and even take advantage of their marketing and footfall.

Independent retailers need to play to their strengths, of which there are many. I’ve only touched on a few. The new and exciting world of multi-channel retailing is not a threat but a great opportunity. Okay so you’ve only got 1000 sq foot on the high street. Well guess what that’s a 1000 sq foot more than ASOS. To me that means it’s easier for you to become a multi-channel retailer than it is for them. Did you know the fastest means of fulfilment for consumers whilst shopping online is click and collect? You can do that easy. Did you know 80% of all online searches start out as local searches and that 96% of UK and 94% of US consumers research online before purchasing locally? You know who these consumers are, they’re your bread and butter. Did you know that 87% of UK and 85% of US consumers felt that multichannel was influential on their shopping habits? Well now you do and you can start influencing them.

In short and to make a long story a little longer, independent retail needs to be more proactive and confident when it comes to eCommerce you hold more cards than you realise. Let’s make multi-channel retailing a by line for a strong independent retail sector.

http://www.ecommerce-europe.eu/press/2013/05/press-release-european-e-commerce-to-reach-312-billion-in-2012-19-growth )