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EDITORIAL Social and marketplace shopping on the rise: what do retailers need to know?

Get ready for an SME Christmas

With Singles’ Day kicking off the peak season, retailers across the board are holding their breaths as they wait to see just what sort of post-pandemic bounce-back they may or may not get. Initial signs are worrying: October online sales were flat and well down on even 2020.

However, are retailers worrying about the wrong thing? While we all wait to see when – and if – the explosion in Christmas sales materialises, something strange is happening: shoppers are looking away from brands and retailers and their websites and going elsewhere.

Singles’ Day, let’s not forget, is run by Alibaba – a marketplace. And it is these marketplaces, along with social media sites that want to be marketplaces, that are getting all the consumer attention.

Research out this week finds that marketplaces are now the starting point for 44% of all product research, accounting for the largest share of search, compared to only 19% for search engines themselves. Brands’ own websites comparatively languish, commanding only 9% of initial searches. This trend was particularly pronounced in those aged 18-24, where 52% use marketplaces as their starting points vs 18% search engines.

Social media, too, is starting to become a popular destination for shoppers to buy: almost three quarters (73%) of younger UK shoppers are already shopping from brand and retailer social posts, with 78% of younger shoppers saying social media makes it easier to find out about new, small and interesting brands, finds a separate study.

Together, these two trends show that shoppers have perhaps changed their shopping habits in ways that many retailers aren’t so aware of. Inflation, wage worries and general pandemic panic have all seen shoppers look for bargains. They are also increasingly distressed by the supply chain issues that are starting to become overt.

Marketplaces, social sites and overseas, niche, retailers are all starting to reap the rewards of this shift.

For many mainstream retailers this could be a threat. For Growth 2000 players, however, it could be a boon. With marketplaces and social sites attracting shoppers who are looking for more unusual and niche brands and goods, it offers a big opportunity.

Sure, you will have to work with marketplaces and social media companies to realise the dream – and that poses a range of challenges, not least the big ‘who owns the customer’ shaped one – but the rewards may now outweigh these downsides.

Already, some are expecting this Christmas to be a small retailer Christmas like no other, with research by TalkTalk Business reporting that two thirds (65%) of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) say shoppers have started their Christmas shopping earlier than usual, while 70% say their regular customers are now completing their Christmas shopping with them online instead of in person.

Couple this with using marketplaces and social media to be discovered and there is the likelihood that things are indeed going to be rosy this Yuletide for the smaller retailer.

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