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GUEST COMMENT 2012: Online retail comes of age

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With 2012 marking the 18th anniversary of online retail, Keith Bird, chief executive of eSellerPro, shares his thoughts on how the retail industry has come of age and what the future holds.

by Keith Bird

Consumers are continually striving to be connected. The widespread adoption of smartphones and social media has led to an influx of new channels and retailers are now recognising that a presence across all these new platforms is vital. Whether it is ‘e’, ‘m’, ‘s ‘or ‘f’ commerce, consumers desire convenience, selection, value and accessibility when it comes to shopping and adopting a holistic multichannel strategy will mean retailers can meet this demand better.

Retailers are investigating new methods of engagement and over the past year in particular we have seen an increase in click and collect schemes, such as those deployed by Argos and ASOS. There has been increasing use of social media to engage customers and the emergence of retail apps and mobile websites enabling consumers to make one-click purchases on the go. Retailers are currently moving from a point of awareness and adoption and it is during this time that brands and consumers need to be experimenting and using these channels to engage and create a sense of trust.

Exploring the multichannel environment can be a confusing time for retailers, but this needn’t be a challenging journey as long as the concept of engagement is considered throughout. The relationship between the retailer and consumer needs to be a two-way one, and retailers must take every opportunity to use the platforms and tools available to listen, understand and serve both current and potential customers.

Retailers need to approach this fast-changing landscape, not by viewing each channel as a new, standalone route to sales, but as one converged channel. Ecommerce systems can help to align back-office functions, while the introduction of click and collect schemes can bring together both mobile and high street offerings. It is this kind of initiative that is going to be the best hope for retailers willing to drive both online and offline sales and provide a competitive advantage in today’s multichannel world.

Retailers need to harness social and mobile platforms to engage customers as the demand for real-time interaction continues to grow. The use of text messages to provide real-time updates on delivery times, will become more widespread, while social media will be used to provide speedy responses and online chat with customer service representatives – a technique already effectively deployed by brands such as O2.

We are also likely to see more entries into the marketplace arena as online retailers seek to diversify their revenue streams as we begin to see more online businesses. IMRG recorded 228,000 online retail businesses operating in the UK last year and predicts that this number will grow to 1.5 million by 2015. Tesco has already announced its move into the marketplace space and with the low entry costs and the potential to reach millions, this trend is likely to become widely adopted.

Through a more integrated approach, the phrase ‘x-commerce’ will become increasingly common as platform and channel become irrelevant to the buyer. The best advice, from small home-based sellers all the way through to the biggest household brands, is to embrace the idea of multichannel retailing as it becomes an essential reality for any successful retail strategy in 2012 and beyond.

Keith Bird is chief executive of eSellerPro.

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