What have you planned for 2014?

Christmas is well and truly behind us and the blank canvas of 2014 stretches out ahead. Here at Stylefinch central we have big plans for this year but perhaps that can wait for another day.

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I did come across an interesting article this morning which prompted the latest blog. The article in question refers to the latest BDO High Street Sales Tracker data and can be seen here http://www.myfinances.co.uk/cut-your-bills/2014/01/06/retailers-experienced-underwhelming-sales-over-christmas.

In short it shows a fragmented picture of the Christmas shopping season. It says that the medium sized high street retailers saw a drop of 2.2% when compared to 2012. Indeed like for like sales (excluding online sales) dropped by 6.7% in the week ending December 22nd.

The last sentence is where the nuance really is, excluding online sales. We are very firmly of the belief that the high street is going nowhere, at least for the foreseeable future. Why do we think this? Well even with all the hype Worldwide Ecommerce will account for less that 10% of the total retail spend last year. But again the devil is in the detail here, as the winners from this year’s Christmas period will testify. The big winners this year are the likes of Next, John Lewis and House of Fraser. All brick and mortar retailers with a very heavy presence online. Now I know these guys are big, they have deep pockets and can bring resources to bear that the average high street retailer can only dream of, but, and there’s always a but, the playing field is being leveled.

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Many of the tools the big guys are using in their retail strategies are now available to the small independent group or individual. It’s now easier than ever to establish yourself as an omni-channel retailer regardless of size or budget. You no longer need to have an in-debt knowledge of IT or the workings of back end systems. If you can use Facebook we believe you can run and effective on and offline strategy. Indeed the reason for doing this is simply to support the total business. The on and offline Worlds are now becoming one and the same to the consumer and it’s the retailers who grasp this that will survive and thrive in the new environment.

The consumer now expects to be able to interact with their favourite retailers across mobile devices, laptops, desktops and of course in the flesh. Indeed I believe in the flesh is still their preferred choice and all the other options can be utilised to make the physical in store experience more convenient and enjoyable. This trend is not going to slow down, consumers now expect multiple touch points and methods to shop their favourite stores. If you’re not offering them these options they will simply go elsewhere.

I’ve believe and will never stop saying the independent high street retailers enjoy many advantages over their larger competitors. They can differentiate themselves through product range, service and flexibility. Against the online only retailers they can enjoy the huge advantage of being seen as a tangible real world business and can capitalise in their catchment area and beyond using this major plus point.

So as a business whose main reason for coming into existence was to assist in the maintenance and growth of the independent high street we would like to see next year’s figures tell a different story.

Delivering overall growth, that’s the only game in town. It doesn’t matter if the brick and mortar portion is down 6% once the business as a whole is up. Customers are now researching online and buying in store, they’re clicking and collecting (the World’s fastest means of fulfilment), and they’re researching in store and buying on line. It really doesn’t matter how your customer buys once they remain your customer and buy from you.

Technology is not a reason for doing anything. Technology should be an enabler that leads to a beneficial result. It should always come back to people and in this instance the important people are the customers. As I recently said if we take a look back 100 years ago cutting edge tech consisted of the Model T, Oil and Radio. We take all of these for granted today and future generations will view current high tech solutions in the same way. As a retailer you really need to be where your customers are. In the past the footfall was specifically on the high street. Today the footfall is quite likely to be digital so to speak. Are you there?

If not you need to think about getting there. Not for the technology’s sake, but for the sake of your customer and ultimately your business. By all accounts growth is back on the agenda across the UK & Ireland so give some thought to your eCommerce strategy and make sure you get your fair share. Here’s to 2014.

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