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Welcome to the world of multichannel retailing

For all of you retailers – welcome to the world of multichannel retailing!

By Sinead McLaughlin, CE


High street retailers have been squeezed by falling consumer spending and rising costs - including energy,rents and rates.  Meanwhile the traditional stores are being challenged by pound shops and other discount retailers.  So it should surprise no one that our city and town centres are suffering from distressingly high levels of empty buildings, which in some cases could threaten the sustainability of traditional urban areas.

With the negatives always comes a positive through the most significant threat to shop front retailing also presents a real opportunity - as the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce’s recent ‘Retail to E-tail’ seminars have explained. Last year 12.7% of UK retail sales were conducted online.  By 2018, that figure is expected to jump to 21.5%.

Welcome to the world of multichannel retailing, many more retailers are merging the online and the off-line into a seamless business.  

So many consumers are making their purchases on the web, but choosing to collect items in-store. Interestingly the University of Ulster told our most recent seminar that research shows 5% of retail purchases online are collected away from home and that this is expected to grow to 50% over the next five years.Consumers are now seeing shops in a different way -as a collection point for items already ordered, or to return goods that they have decided on reflection they do not want.  

Research recently conducted by Royal Mail found that only 40% of small online businesses would like to open a physical store on the high street. This could assist with repopulating parts of our declining city and town centres -perhaps, in particular, in less fashionable and lower cost areas of cities such as Derry and Belfast.

But the opportunities are not just with the opening of new stores. More importantly, the internet can be a means not of killing existing retail operations, but rather of revitalising them. According to research by accountancy firm Deloitte, some 75% of consumers research products both online and in-store before making major purchases. Those consumers expect and demand relevant information and knowledge from both the website and store workers.  

One implication is that shoppers are demanding access to wifi while they are in shops.  Many shopping centres are adapting to this demand by increasing the provision of wifi.  Some retailers resist the installation of wifi because they are concerned that this will encourage consumers to do price comparison checks while in their shops and then complete their purchases elsewhere or online. Despite this, there is evidence that wifi networks actually drive higher sales for host retailers, as well as improve customer satisfaction.

Moreover,this wifi interactivity is likely to accelerate and reach new heights. More than a third of consumers would like to be able to scan bar codes of products while in store in order to read further information on displayed products on the internet devices they have with them.

The reality is that consumers expect to glide between the physical and virtual worlds, with seamless connections from the bricks and mortar environment to the online presence.  Retailers have to recognise this, not least by adapting their shops into showrooms for their websites. Consumers want to touch and feel products they are considering buying.  

Would you like to read more on this? 

See page 55 of Business First Magazine