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Guest comment: Retailers must understand the importance of an integrated multichannel offering

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by Michael Norton

In recent years the online retail sector has exhibited continued growth, even as mainstream retail has slowed. It is now thought that £1 in every £8 is spent online and many brands such as ASOS and Amazon are successfully developed as online-only businesses. The fact that the ecommerce industry has continued to flourish and show resilience at a time of great economic uncertainty is an achievement which should be applauded. However, in 2012 retail brands should be looking at new and innovative ways to prosper and keep consumers satisfied.

The convenience and low prices associated with shopping via the web have encouraged consumers to spend without the hassle of the high street and often at a cheaper price. The advent of smartphones has helped to contribute to the notion that shopping should now be about convenience and easy accessibility, as consumers can shop on the move and browse products at their own leisure.

Nevertheless, the increase in popularity of online shopping does not necessarily have to signal the end of the high street, or mean that shopping in traditional shops should suffer. The perception is often that consumers are turning their backs on the high street when in fact the modern consumer wants to shop in a variety of different ways, without giving up on any one method. Each shopping style has its own unique footprint, for example we are more likely to buy high-end products such as jewellery and electrical goods in a store, while the weather and distance can play a part in consumers turning online for lower value goods.

Savvy retailers are embracing the e-commerce revolution by expanding and strengthening their traditional offering into a multichannel approach, with both mobile and social media commerce now providing new avenues to convert sales. The key is to appreciate that consumers want to shop in a variety of ways depending on their mood, location or what they’re doing at the time. For example, some people will opt to make a purchase through their smartphone while they wait for their train, or are sitting at home watching TV. Others will prefer to browse items at their leisure before walking into a physical store to make a purchase. To be successful, retailers need to provide a variety a of purchase methods to cater for all consumer desires. In these difficult times, retailers need to offer integrated payment options to increase the chance of making a sale.

Developments needn’t be dramatic. Having a stable and secure ecommerce site must provide a basis for any brand branching into online. Retailers should also consider that a mobile-optimised site including the payment page, that is rendered correctly, can work well when encouraging consumers to visit the traditional store. However, the payments, fraud management and core ecommerce engines that lie underneath these new shopping platforms can remain as before.

Many retailers have successfully managed to integrate their online and offline approaches with high-street brands such as John Lewis offering 'click and collect' services to ensure that online can compliment a bricks and mortar store. Moreover, online retailers using services such as Collect+, which allows consumers to collect and return parcels at local convenience stores, make the online shopping experience even more convenient, while encouraging customers to visit their local high street.

Although many in the industry believe the rise in online shopping has had a negative impact on the high street, we believe retailers can work to develop an integrated online service which can incorporate all the different aspects of retail and benefit the brand both on the high street and on the web.

Michael Norton is managing director of PayPoint.net.

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