Online Retail

Retail can’t fight digital. So work with it.

Surprisingly, many small retailers are talking about the online threat like it was a new thing. It isn’t and it’s certainly not going away. Whilst some have taken the route of going digital only and eliminating premises costs, the effect is felt on the high street, where committees are struggling to get footfall back into their retail areas.

Can the tide be changed, or do people have to focus more on evolving?

The world we know if has changed considerably in the last decade, and that pace of change is forever speeding up. Darwinism is quite simple about how we handle change, but not all of us have the forethought or ability to not only evolve, but even to just roll with the times.

When the internet arrived in homes, and TV went from terrestrial to digital – we were given close to unlimited options in terms of how we live our life. What we wear, watch, eat and so on. And the thing is – we’ve got used to this, and come to expect it in all aspects of our life. Consciously or not, we carry this with us – but it’s created challenges along the way.

Despite wanting everything we may desire close at hand – and thus the rise of convenience shopping and retail parks – we also want specialism too. Yes, price is important, but for some purchases we’re shunning the mass produced or some items – perhaps the items which help give us our own personality and identity.

But this is where we’re a contradictory bunch. We want the latest smartphone of devise which is mass-produced and marketed to within an inch of its life, but we then go out of our way to select a beer which carries provenance an in many cases, an element of limit to it’s supply.

However, businesses need to survive, and to do this we get into profit, market share and cost of production. Then, that business tips into a different category – from ‘niche’ or ‘craft’, to ‘mainstream’. Much like a 17 year old finding out his 45 year-old dad likes the same band as he – it can suddenly crush credibility in a second.

So in short, we consumers want our cake and want to eat it now. Or tomorrow. Or whenever we want to. We’re in control.

But back to the retailers. Some are hampered by size and scale, which although may bring economies, brings restrictions and lack of agility. The smaller retailers are hampered by city centres becoming entertainment rather than shopping destinations – and rates can be crippling too. So who is winning right now?

Yes, lets mention Amazon. Surely ‘the one’ on everyone’s mind. And who really can compete? Certainly not the small retailer. But, they can take lessons.

The joy about Amazon is that they make it easy for people to buy from them. And that’s simple, isn’t it? The customer experience therefore, is one of ease – and confidence. Now translate that into a retail environment;

  • Yes you can browse (but perhaps not in your PJ’s)
  • You can try before you buy.
  • You have to get to the shop (therefore cars/parking/bus/cycling etc)
  • You may have to carry lots of bags
  • It can be stressful if busy

However, what can retail do that online cannot;

  • It can be personable
  • It can have more of a personality
  • It can recommend and advise – based on experience, not algorithms
  • It can involve more senses

So what’s this about fighting digital?

Successful retailers see digital as an additional string to their bow, not necessarily a futuristic ray-gun which makes their bow and arrow obsolete.

Sure, for restaurants for example, it can tempt with images and menu listings and help with booking and reservations too. But what about for much smaller companies – the one and two-man bands out there?

For me, this comes down with getting people to buy into you and your brand or ethos if you wish. Use it to tell stories – and these in turn make your products more unique: you personally selected a cheese after visiting the manufacturer at his farm? Document it. You’re recommending a wine as you first tasted it at a vineyard in Tuscany – paint the picture. Make it personal. You may not have the buying power to compete with Amazon, or the range to compete with Tesco, but you have personality which no matter how hard they try, the larger organisations cannot provide for you.

This is why people are stood in barns and industrial units drinking beer – because they meet the brewer and see that this product is made by hand within x miles of where they live. This is why (on trips abroad) I find some of the best fish restaurants on the docks. It’s fresh. It’s not been transported across the world to be processed, despite being caught in local waters. This is why seasonal fruit and veg is best. This is why we still need to think and support local. It’s the differences which give regions, towns, cities, countries and continents their identities. You get the drift.

So, the digital world. Embrace it. Work with it. There’s an app for everything, and if you want to create a great brand personality – theres so much you can use. For free.


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