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Digital platforms driving sales up – but better technology needed to maintain growth…

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With British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures showing that online sales grew slowly last month at the expense of in-store sales, retailers need to adopt technology and a mobile-first approach if they are to continue to see momentum, ecommerce vendors and consultants are warning.

The February BRC statistics are the strongest indicator yet that ecommerce is increasingly the preferred platform for savvy shoppers who now desire a much more convenient and quick shopping experience. The sector saw a 7.7% increase year-on-year in February 2017, following a 8% increase the previous month, as consumers vote with their fingers and thumbs – and online growth helped to stabilise the gradual decline in high-street shopping.

While there likely to be a drop in consumer spending driven by higher inflation and political uncertainty, online seems to be winning out – however, without continuing to look at how to make the most of technology, particularly mobile, then this too may stall.

“There is still a significant opportunity for retailers to leverage the advances in eCommerce technology and associated operating models such that a re-evaluation of strategy and funding to leverage the online market is well worth the investigation,” says Andy Burton, CEO of Tryzens.

He adds: “A mobile first strategy approach is one of the most important trends that forward-thinking retailers can adopt in the coming months. This centres on building the online experience from the ground up, looking first at how it is presented to a consumer and how it is navigated and responsive on a mobile device before any other medium. Extrapolating the trends we are seeing of traffic to sites from mobile devices, this is a key strategy that all retailers should be looking at. Tools such as real-time analytics – which proactively ensures retailers can evaluate and assess their online trading and respond on a timely basis are also key to boost sales or enhance the customer experience.”

But it shouldn’t end there, retailers still need to think ahead with digital technology to keep the growth on track, warns ecommerce consultancy Salmon.

“The news should come as no surprise; vendors must realise that they cannot sit still and expect to lead in the competitive retail industry. Retailers must catch-up with the likes of natural e-tailers like Amazon, Asos, Boohoo etc. and cannot afford to remain stagnant in a fast-paced industry that is constantly evolving,” says Patrick Munden, Global Head of Retail and Marketing, Salmon.

He continues: “A shift towards digital services is the first step in achieving this, but this will quickly develop into emerging technologies such as Zero UI – the move away from physical interactions in favour of sound, movement and other senses – artificial intelligence, virtual reality shopping and the IoT. These are just some of the latest trends that are already disrupting the retail sector and will continue to dominate the future of ecommerce, as the nation continues to digitise and online platforms increasingly become the preferred option for most transactions. However, the retailer that takes this one step further and embraces new technologies, will continue to prosper in the challenging UK market.”

But the high street isn’t done just yet. It too can still thrive if it too embraces similar technology. A study by TimeTrade in the US finds that 70% of shoppers plan to shop in stores as much as they did in 2016 and 14% even more, with many starting to ‘reverse showroom’, where they check out product details online and then use that, via their mobile, in store to make a final purchase decision.

As Tryzen’s Burton concludes: “ecommerce is certainly not being negatively affected by dips in sales through the traditional bricks and mortar channels. But it has by no means taken over either and represents a growing minority of retail spend. That is important to remember – for retailers with physical stores, the key is to leverage eCommerce technology and to create a single view of the customer and a single view of stock (regardless of shopping channel) to enhance and lift the in-store experience and drive the overall business results. Investment in eCommerce – for example to boost fulfilment choice and convenience, and the use of the rich feature set of a mobile (such as geo-location) to extend in-store offers to passing customers – is all a part of supporting the evolving omni-channel shopping experience.”

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