The Customer is our North Star

It’s the consumer, stupid!

You’d be forgiven for believing that retail in 2017 is all about technology. There is a lot of talk of the ever growing importance of eCommerce, big data, location based marketing etcetera, etcetera. There’s no doubt that eCommerce is now incredibly important and is continuing to grow at a very impressive rate across the globe, especially when viewed against the backdrop of stagnating or falling traditional high street retailing. In 2016 eCommerce accounted for 10% of global retailing. However it did grow at an impressive 20% plus in 2016 and this is against stagnating or declining traditional high street retailing. Global retail is a $21 trillion business so at 10% eCommerce is hardly small beer. Moreover the forecast is to have eCommerce take an impressive $4 trillion slice of global retail by 2020.

But all of the tech talk and impressive online sales growth is to miss the really really important point surrounding retail.  The technology is only an enabler and can never be the end in itself. For example let’s put technology in perspective. 100 years ago cutting edge tech was the Model T, RCA and wireless trading rooms connecting Wall Street to the great Atlantic liners of the time. So tech moves on. And so it is for all the breath taking innovations surrounding the transaction and discovery stage of a customers journey. However the fundamentals of retail remain as they’ve always been and that’s to satisfy the consumer. The technology is incredibly important but only when it benefits the customer.

Whereas 2000 years ago, when hungry we’d head out and do a bit of gathering or if you were up to it maybe a bit of hunting. 100 years ago, we’d head out to the local grocer, butcher or baker. 50 years ago we’d head to the local super market. Now we would in all probability pick up a device.
More often than not that device is most likely to be in our pockets. But here’s the rub, the start and end of the journey is pretty much unchanged from 50 or 100 years ago. Not sure? Well then check out this interesting bit of research presented in a handy quick view info-graphic from the nice people at Business 2 Consumer (B2C) http://tinyurl.com/mxfrjmm
 
Like my last post it again underlines the fact that the physical is still very very important. So although the customer journey is now likely to take a circuitous route and involves a much more educated and informed individual the journey still starts with a need and finishes with a physical product. Just as surprisingly the consumer’s preference is to find the solution as close to home as possible, again just like 100 years ago. Back then it was because of transport considerations, in other words it was convenient. Well in 2017 it is still much more convenient to have the service or product fulfilled locally. It’s only when your customer cannot find the solution with you, or worse when it comes to those pesky screens cannot find you at all, that they move quickly on.
So how do you position yourself for retail success in 2017 with so much change and innovation? Our suggestion is you go back to basics and concentrate on the consumer and their journey. At COVA we have a very simple philosophy and that is the “Consumer is our North Star”. When we develop an approach or feature we simply ask does this benefit the customer? If the answer is yes then we go all in. If it’s no it gets binned. After all in our business if it doesn’t benefit the customer then it’s just a vanity, a piece of fluff and not worthy of our time and effort.
We think this is a simple criteria and one worth embedding in our culture. Because once we bought into this approach the road map became very clear. What does the customer want and how do we get it to them? When we answer those two simple questions with the customer at the centre, decisions become easier and more obvious.
The consumer habits have changed but the underlying motivation remains largely unchanged over the decades. As I outlined in my previous post the physical retailer still has many advantages over the pure play eCommerce retailers. But that shouldn’t mean you ignore the benefits having a digital presence can bring. The consumer now expects it from you. If you don’t offer it they’re off to a competitor who does. Let’s put it this way, you opened your shop due to the belief you’d get footfall in the chosen location. Well now you need to understand your customer is mobile in every way. It’s no longer just footfall it’s now about where your customers eye balls fall. The irony is that having that eCommerce presence is actually a driver of footfall. Grab the consumers screen time and reap the rewards not just online but in store too.
So if you keep your customer at the heart of what you do you’ll move to providing the solutions they demand in 2017. The consumer journey starts and finishes as it always did but the bit in between takes a little thought. It’s not difficult and the effort could see you grab your fair share of the projected $27 trillion retail sector in 2020. Hopefully there’s a little food for thought here. If there is and you’d like to discuss further give me a shout at mark@covaworld.com
(Interesting that the hunter gatherer parlance still manages to influence our modern language as the homo sapiens skills have gone from hunting for food to hunting for bargains).
At https://covaworld.com we do an out of the box solution for retail aimed at the Suppliers and Retailers allowing for close co-operation benefiting all involved. You can be up and running in 5 minutes and punching way above your weight in the most cost effective way.
              http://www.business2community.com/infographics/local-seo-statistics-must-know-infographics-01557523
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Make no mistake the future of retail is physical.



As an independent retailer you could be forgiven for thinking the game is up for the physical store. On a global scale we’re constantly bombarded with news and articles about how the retail world is changing. Indeed journalists seem to have their go to sources when they want to back this up. Amazon and Walmart get far more than their fair share of column inches especially as we get more and more of our statistics and data from US skewed sources. But guess what Global retail was worth a massive $22 Trillion dollars in 2016. The giants Amazon and Walmart accounted for 0.45% and 2.3% respectively. So the two giant US based retailers accounted for less than 3% of global retail.


And what might be a little surprising is the fact the physical retailer Walmart had five times the sales of the media darling Amazon. Now there’s no doubt Amazon is incredibly innovative and is not beyond flying the odd kite in an effort to remain at the very front of the consumer’s mind. But here’s the rub, at it’s core Amazon is a physical retailer. It differs from the Walmart’s and Tesco’s of the world in the manner in which it gets products in front of consumers but they do deal in real tangible product and in that regard they are very much physical.


They have brick and mortar fulfillment centres to house physical stock and use physical means of transport. Until Jeff finally announces his guys have perfected the teleportation device of the beam me up Scotty variety they still have many of the same issues of a traditional retailer regardless of size. 


In short Amazon are just another route to market for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers of brands. They do bring many advantages to suppliers and brands and can leverage size and volume to deliver value and convenience to the consumer. But none of their core activities are patentable or not open to being copied. The reason they laud their speed of delivery is in part due to the fact they have to. Unlike a local brick and mortar store a consumer cannot simply just drop in and pick up an item on a whim or in an emergency. So Amazon’s answer is to get it to the consumer ASAP when needed. But in general outside of emergency situations who cannot wait a day or so for that new dress, box of Persil or those bangin’ new headphones. In fact Amazon are rather predictably in our view looking to navigate their way into the physical space for the reasons outlined above. Sometimes it’s just easier to drop into a store or have a place to drop off a return. For the retailer there’s the benefit of offering a replacement product there and then or better again up-selling and offering what Amazon really can’t a true impulse buying opportunity.


So where are we going with all of this? Well it’s to remind SME retailers they they too hold a lot of cards. At it’s core, retail is all about satisfying a consumers need. Getting a physical product out of a warehouse or off a shelf and into the hands of the consumer is what it’s all about. Whether the consumer starts their journey on a website or in a store the goal is the same. How do we get that product from point A to point B otherwise known as the consumers hands. As a retailer with a physical store you already have much of the hard work done. You have the relationships with the suppliers and the consumers. In the case of our target retailers they also have the means of fulfillment in-house. 


You have the ability to give the consumer more confidence than a eCommerce only retailer. That ability comes from having a physical location a consumer can have last resort to. You have the fulfillment centre already on tap and again that’s your physical store. You have local market knowledge and relationships again due to your presence in the community. All that’s left now is to leverage all of the advantages you have and connect them to the power of the web. You could get moving and connect the final piece of the jigsaw with eCommerce capabilities. But yet you haven’t done this. So what’s stopping you? Technology, resources, time, finances? Worried you’ll end up with an increased workload, almost like running another business. 


No longer acceptable excuses. Why? Because we can take on the heavy lifting. Leverage the power of your suppliers, automate all of your eCommerce sales, retain all the consumer and sales data involved. We tick all of those boxes and much more. Get in touch at info@covaworld.com and we can arrange a demo and show you how you can quite literally open up a whole new world of opportunities.


Independent retail is very well placed to become a force in eCommerce. It’s easier for you to become a multi-channel retailer than it is for say the Amazon’s of this world. It’s easier for you to stand out from the crowd and leverage your local loyal customer base than it is for the larger chains. You have a level of exclusivity that the multiples don’t enjoy. Not everyone wants to look or be the same, right? So if you’re in retail you should be in eCommerce. You have 90% of the work done. You know your business, you know your customer, you have your product so why not do what you do when you have a plumbing or car issue. Find somebody to get the job done for you or as in our case with you. Independent retail has diversity, individuality, exclusivity and many other advantages over the larger chains so don’t let insecurity about your level of technical knowledge stop you. Take it from us at www. COVAWORLD.com  cost or technical knowledge is no longer a barrier to entry.

Sources:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/672747/amazons-consolidated-net-revenue-by-segment/

https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Worldwide-Retail-Ecommerce-Sales-Will-Reach-1915-Trillion-This-Year/1014369

https://www.statista.com/statistics/183399/walmarts-net-sales-worldwide-since-2006/

Retail is now technology.

Retail is all about change. Formats get reimagined, in-store merchandising changes daily, departments get increased or decreased in accordance with demand or seasonality. Our marketing campaigns move and adapt with the times. If you’re in retail in you’re in the business of change. It’s dynamic, always has been.

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Retail has been to the forefront of technological change too. The very first commercial installation of an elevator by Otis was in a five storey New York department store. Escalators followed soon after and became common place in the US in the early part of the 20th century. The first cash register was patented in 1883. Its development influenced the recording and management of data that had wider implications beyond retail. Retail gave us the price gun, the bar code, modern consumer marketing and even the widespread use of the computer. British tea chain J. Lyons & Co saw the potential for computers in retail as far back as 1947. So technology and change are part and parcel of retail, so what’s the difference with the new world of retail?

Well the difference this time around is the fact that the retailers are no longer driving the change and as a result no longer in control. The change is now being driven by the consumer. And yes that can be a little bit scary.

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Now the big guys are working hard to catch up. Getting their messaging and branding right, across all the channels. Ensuring their on line identity mirrors their in store experiencing as closely as possible. The pure on line guys with their dynamic exponential growth don’t have these issues, or not yet at least. The poor relation it seems in the modern retail age is the independent retail sector. After all as a sector it has yet to really get to grips with the new multichannel environment. The larger chains have departments to look after ecommerce. They have the resources to manage digital marketing, social media, click and collect etc. etc. The Amazons, ASOS’ etc. only live on line and don’t need to worry about the high street physical space. The independent could easily be forgiven for raising the white flag.

 

But before that happens we’d like to put forward an alternative view. Our view is the physical space has a very big future. The small independent retailer has a very big future. You might not think so if you’re to believe the press and current group think on eCommerce. Almost to underline what we’ve been saying for some time now I’ve attached a link  ( http://internetretailing.net/2014/04/most-uk-shoppers-still-prefer-stores-to-ecommerce-study/ ) to the latest research from YouGov concerning UK consumer insights. In brief it suggests that consumers still enjoy the act of shopping in a store. It also underlines another of our beliefs that given the opportunity a shopper likes to touch and see product. It’s no longer an either or question when it comes to Brick & Mortar or online retail. As far as the consumer is concerned it’s all just retail now. The consumer is now on Facebook, Pinterest, Tumble, Twitter etc. and they’re using it for browsing and shopping. Your customer is much more likely to believe a person they’ve never met over you when it comes to reading product reviews.

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Your consumer is now browsing, researching and shopping on their phones and tablets. Are you digitally invisible or will they find you where they are looking? As a retailer you need a digital strategy. Your customers are living in a digital world so it makes sense for you to inhabit that same world. Sound scary? Well it really isn’t. When you strip out the big words and tech speak it really comes back to basic retail. The rules don’t change that much, it still comes down to service, convenience and product. This brings me back to our main point which is the physical retailer will trump the online only retailer every time. If you back up the shop with the eCommerce site your consumer can choose to do business with you in many more convenient and varied ways than they can with Amazon or ASOS. We are shameless in our support for independent retail and their suppliers. We favour the diversity, personality and passion of the independent over the larger chains or online only guys. The future is unwritten, it will involve change, but rest assured if you embrace it the future is brighter than you might currently think. Embrace the technology and use it to win, after all isn’t that what retail has done in the past ?

Is financial solvency enough in the new millennium?

insolvency

Is financial solvency enough in the new millennium?

With the 20th Century now well and truly behind us is it time to rethink the way we look at our business models? One of the most important yardsticks when examining a business is whether it is solvent or insolvent. The repercussions for being insolvent are very dire indeed. A business can be cash flow insolvent or balance sheet insolvent. The upshot is however that it is an offence to trade whilst being insolvent. In current insolvency law the area of interest relates strictly to the ability of a business to repay its’ debts as they fall due. As we push further into the new millennium I would suggest that this might no longer be enough.

If we look at our most recent crisis across the globe it was once again sparked off by large financial institutions which were insolvent long before the penny dropped with regulators and governments. If we look at 1929 and the great crash it was again fuelled by large institutions and wealthy individuals such as JP Morgan, Jesse Livermore, William Crapo Durant etc. Our most recent crisis stemmed from a property bubble whilst the 1929 crash stemmed from a stock market bubble. In both cases the causes and outcomes were pretty much the same as people and institutions bought an asset class they couldn’t afford with money they didn’t own. A relatively small group of wealthy individuals and organisations over egged their positions and let their greed run away with themselves and brought the system to its knees. As always there are winners too. Look at Joe Kennedy as he sat idly by and watched the market crash only to pick up the pieces afterward and make a fortune in the process. The transfer of wealth from ordinary citizens across the globe to another relatively small group of individuals and organisations in recent times has been astounding. So can this type of incident be stopped from happening again or are we doomed to repeat the cycle with the arrival of every new generation as they look set to reinvent their very own wheel.

So here’s a thought. What if we had some new and additional insolvency yardsticks? For example what if a company or business was expected to be morally and ethically solvent? Would it be hard to police, could we come up with a set of parameters for such an initiative. Could we write some code to allow for an impartial measure of business moral solvency?

Perhaps we don’t need to. Perhaps we could just get the thought out there to the consumer and allow them to decide which business they think morally solvent. Moral solvency might be a bit of an abstract concept right now as was the idea of breaking up monopolies in the 1800’s but that’s not to say it might not have some merit. If we had a guide for moral insolvency could any of our bankers run riot for the benefit of their own bonus packages. Investors in the main really don’t count for outside of the individual investor by and large the institutional investors primary goal is maximise return largely regardless of where the funds go.

So as you know if you’ve followed previous blog entries I’m all about diversity, the beauty of independent businesses and especially the diverse nature of an independent high street. If we look at the recent corporation tax issues, especially the highly public reaction to Starbucks in the UK and Apple in Ireland, then we might see an opportunity for small businesses in all of this. I would suggest the small independent high street business has much less opportunity to move funds around when compared to the multinational giants. The small business is also highly invested in its locality as opposed to a multinational which views their store as just another cost or profit centre. So could the small locally vested business be more morally solvent than their larger competitors. Again I would suggest yes. I would trust my local credit union more than my local banks, I would trust my local fashion store rather than the larger chains in my town. Why? Because I know them, I see them dropping their children to school, I see them at local sporting events, I see them shopping when I’m shopping. I see them investing in local sponsorship, reinvesting in their businesses and working hard to survive. I don’t believe they are working towards their next bonus but they are working towards getting revenue in to pay their business rates. Rates that pave our roads and keep the street lights on. I’m not altogether sure if Moral solvency would catch the imagination or could be turned from an abstract concept into a business practice. I am sure however that my local high street independents have it in bucket loads when compared to their larger multinational competitors.

Perhaps there’s a thesis or dissertation in this idea or maybe someone has already completed one, if so I’d love to read it. Thanks for reading.

It’s not where you start it’s where you finish.

I thought I’d start this weeks blog with a few stats from the UK, Australia and Ireland. The reason being there’s a similar trend across the three countries and given their maturity when compared to emerging markets the mind boggles at the opportunities still out there. So here goes.

Did you know that there are 5 million private sector businesses in the UK. Of these 5 million 99.9% are classed as SME’s. Of these, Small businesses (0 to 49 employees) account for 47% of employment and 34% of private sector turnover. Now the important stats, over 33.3% of these businesses have no web site, only 41% have a social media account and possibly most importantly only 33% have a website with the functionality for customers to purchase products or services online.

The Australian experience is similar. Australian Bureau of Statistics show that only 43% of businesses have a website but more importantly when looking at small businesses it seems the figure is also around 33%. 

Guess what in Ireland it’s not that different with 32% of SME’s not having a website. Less than 23% sell electronically and only half of them purchasing online.

Three similar stories across three different markets of differing sizes and degrees of maturity. But all three territories continue to experience eCommerce growth. This is happening while high street revenues continue to struggle. So the question then must be if the small business sector, and the area we are interested in the Independent Retail Sector, has failed to take advantage of the new technology and resulting revenue streams then who’s getting the benefits? The answer is the likes of ASOS and Amazon and the multi-channel retailers such as Next and Debenhams etc. It is no coincidence that the growth of the large multi-channel retailers such as Argos and the giant online operators such as Amazon etc has happened at the expense high street.

But surely the glass is half full as opposed to half empty. With the low level of adoption of eCommerce by the small business sector then surely there is as yet untapped growth potential. The forecast for eCommerce is continued growth so if you have not yet gotten to grips with eCommerce the good news is it’s not to late. Bite the bullet and dive in as you know we believe there’s strength in numbers. And 99.9% is a pretty big number (I think). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, (for those of a younger persuasion try broken cassette or broken CD or damaged iPod or interrupted download. Should cover everyone), it’s time for independent retailers to shout about how great they are. But in 2013 that means shouting via your shop floor, shop window, local press, social media and as more of your customers are shopping from their sofas at 7pm on a Sunday evening most importantly your eCommerce enabled website. 

Remember it’s not where you start but where you finish so get online and get in the race.

Next week I’ll be looking at the changing consumer habits and the opportunities that exist for the high street. 

Until next week, thanks for reading.

Did you know that there are 5 million private sector businesses in the UK. Of these 5 million 99.9% are classed as SME’s. Of these, Small businesses (0 to 49 employees) account for 47% of employment and 34% of private sector turnover. Now the important stats, over 33.3% of these businesses have no web site, only 41% have a social media account and possibly most importantly only 33% have a website with the functionality for customers to purchase products or services online.

The Australian experience is similar. Australian Bureau of Statistics show that only 43% of businesses have a website but more importantly when looking at small businesses it seems the figure is also around 33%. 

Guess what in Ireland it’s not that different with 32% of SME’s not having a website. Less than 23% sell electronically and only half of them purchasing online.

Three similar stories across three different markets of differing sizes and degrees of maturity. But all three territories continue to experience eCommerce growth. This is happening while high street revenues continue to struggle. So the question then must be if the small business sector, and the area we are interested in the Independent Retail Sector, has failed to take advantage of the new technology and resulting revenue streams then who’s getting the benefits? The answer is the likes of ASOS and Amazon and the multi-channel retailers such as Next and Debenhams etc. It is no coincidence that the growth of the large multi-channel retailers such as Argos and the giant online operators such as Amazon etc has happened at the expense high street.

But surely the glass is half full as opposed to half empty. With the low level of adoption of eCommerce by the small business sector then surely there is as yet untapped growth potential. The forecast for eCommerce is continued growth so if you have not yet gotten to grips with eCommerce the good news is it’s not to late. Bite the bullet and dive in as you know we believe there’s strength in numbers. And 99.9% is a pretty big number (I think). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, (for those of a younger persuasion try broken cassette or broken CD or damaged iPod or interrupted download. Should cover everyone), it’s time for independent retailers to shout about how great they are. But in 2013 that means shouting via your shop floor, shop window, local press, social media and as more of your customers are shopping from their sofas at 7pm on a Sunday evening most importantly your eCommerce enabled website. 

Remember it’s not where you start but where you finish so get online and get in the race.

Next week I’ll be looking at the changing consumer habits and the opportunities that exist for the high street. 

Until next week, thanks for reading.

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A personal story of multiple v independent.

Just a quick blog this week and it concerns a number of points. One of which is a personal experience with a large multiple and the lesson it holds. 

So last Friday my wife did our weekly shop and decided to go to our local Tesco Extra. A typical out of town box of some 100,000 square feet. Big, sprawling and impersonal. When she returned home she discovered she had two charges showing on her card. One family shop, two charges. Not really satisfactory. Quick call to Tesco to explain we had been charged twice to be told it sometimes happens and the error will be picked up and corrected over the next two or three days. Not really satisfactory. Midweek and the €130 or so is still being held and the funds are not available to us. Not very satisfactory. Today, after we followed up with our bank, they tell us it will take 10 working days to get the funds back in our account and available to us. Not really satisfactory.

So what does this small insignificant event tell us about our modern retail environment?

Firstly our potential problem is of little concern to anyone in our local Tesco. In these difficult times  it’s not good enough to just dismiss this type of error, Tesco’s error. For all they know we need those funds to cover a mortgage repayment or other pressing bills. Who would assist a customers who has direct debits bouncing all over the place due to this type of situation, not Tesco or our bank for that matter it seems. Luckily we are not in that position but the retailer doesn’t know this or care it appears.

Secondly, as we are pushed towards cashless payments more and more this type of experience would colour my judgement in future transactions with someone like a Tesco.

Thirdly the off hand manner in how the problem was dealt with seems to suggest this is not an isolated event. 

We here at Stylefinch are passionate about independent retail and although this type of event is a nuisance it does allow me to take some positives from the experience. Independent retail still enjoys some advantages over the multiples when it comes to this type of problem. It has always been felt that independent retail can win over the larger retailers by way of customer service and that personal touch. This week has just underlined that fact to me again. I know at least 25% of my the independent retailers in my town by name and another 40% to say hello to and the balance I’d know to see. I recently bought a pair of shoes (thank you Richie Whelan Menswear) from one and noted I was charged €10 over the marked price. I dropped back in and explained the error and was handed €10 cash back there and then. I paid by card, didn’t matter, I wanted to show my receipt, didn’t need to see it. The refund was from the business owner even though he hadn’t been present when I purchased the shoes the day earlier.

Distinct difference in approach. The town in which I live has a population of 25,000 so it’s of a reasonable size. The Tesco is 1.5km from this store but 1000km from their approach.

This is why we must all strive to get the message out that towns and cities without independent retail are towns and cities without a heart. Saving the high street is not just good commerce it’s social.

Remember an independent high street it’s not business it’s personal.

 

High street closures, it’s not a done deal you know!

The demise of our high streets is very current right now. I’ve read this week of a near apocalyptic scenario whereby it’s predicted that up to 20% of UK high street stores will close by 2018. That figure could rise it seems to 30% for Wales and the North West of the UK, according to the Mail at any rate. This is now being reported as fact and is in danger as being consumed as such. Is there any other industry where this would happen? I think not. Independent retail is diverse and as such can sometimes struggle to speak with one voice. For example how would the drinks industry, pharmaceutical industry, road haulage industry and perhaps farmers react to such headlines? Loudly no doubt.

We need to get away from the fait accompli approach to the high street. This is not a fact and is not guaranteed to happen if the high street and independent retailers react. Retail is and always has been about change. Seasonality, product and range, merchandising and reacting to the challenges presented over the last 100 years. Wanamaker’s Grand Emporium Philadelphia saw the arrival of the merchandiser, retailers began to welcome customers to their stores. This was more than just a catchphrase as retailers dismantled steps and any other hindrance a customer might encounter prior to entry. Next on the agenda was large windows, dressed with mannequins. Ground breaking indeed. The death of the small retailer was imminent it seemed. Guess what they adapted.

Stores such as Selfridges of London, Marshall Fields of Chicago and Bon Marche of Paris were swiftly followed Frank Woolworth and the first chain store in the early 20th Century. Independent retail was on the ropes. However the next retail revolution was not another large format but was the arrival of the boutique. The fact is when you chart the development of retail you see a constant pattern of change. Decline and renaissance as portrayed in the book “The Business of Britain in the 20th Century”.

The fact that retail is all about change should allow us to grab the new environment of eCommerce and mold it to suit our needs as retailers. Technology is changing the world at ever increasing speeds. The way we bank, the way we communicate and yes the way we shop. But behind all the technology there’s always people. We as retailers have communicated with our customers face to face, on our shop floors. We can still communicate but our shop floor is now in more than one place. If anything it’s now even easier to meet our customers, easier to have a conversation, a real two way conversation. But in order to do this we must be in the right state of mind and in the right places. Our high street location is now only one such place. Others include twitter, facebook, pinterest and hopefully on our eCommerce enabled web site. Change brings with it great challenges but it also brings great opportunities. Embrace the opportunities to mitigate the challenges.

As independent retailers we need to be more confident. Independent retail offers individuality, service, diversity and more often than not quality. Quality of service and product. Getting drawn into a price war with online retailers is a zero sum game. Independent retail brings much more to the party than price. Get online, develop an eCommerce site. Do this not just to sell but to shout. Shout about what you’re good at, your advantages, your personality. Be brave and embrace the change, after all where would retail be without change?

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 )