There is no doubt that last year was a tough one for retail, and struggles at many of the high street’s most recognisable powerhouses show that challenging times are persisting. Like-for-like sales fell in June 2019 by 1.3%, resulting in the lowest 12-month average since December 1995. Brexit has been a constant shadow and at the global level, talk of trade wars and levies doesn’t help either. Those macro factors will always be there in one form or another however and retailers must navigate a path to manage these variables, recognising that controlling them is outside of their gift.
In spite of the narrative that a shift to online retail spells the end of the high street, it isn’t a binary choice. Apple and NIKE are two examples of brands that have shown that investment in experiential bricks and mortar, coupled with premium online experiences, is a route to greater returns. We hear a lot about the migration from bricks and mortar to online, but finding the right balance is where brands can really win. Shoppers like to shop both online and instore, and brands that can combine these into a truly omnichannel experience will come out on top. This means investing in an intuitive and responsive online presence and bringing this to life with an unparalleled in-store experience. At every point of the omnichannel experience, brand loyal customers must feel close to and in tune with their favourite brands.
In our recent Market & Innovation Review, omnichannel leads the way in terms of key ecommerce trends. “Click and collect” and the ability to carry out “real time store availability” checks online are two key capabilities that shoppers are demanding, but it goes much further than that. As far back as 2017, Nordstrom’s “reserve online, try on in store” was rolled out, allowing customers to select items online and try them on in person at their nearest store. On this side of the pond, in January 2019 Net-a-Porter launched a “try before you buy” service for VIP customers, allowing them to have the contents of their online shopping basket delivered to their door to see, feel and try on with other items before parting with any money.
Data released by eShopWorld earlier this year showed that despite domestic challenges, demand for international brands continues to grow, with cross-border global ecommerce sales growing by 35 per cent across major markets during the 2018 peak pre-Christmas shopping period (November 15th - December 20th) year over year. The UK was within the top five countries generating the highest sales growth, recording a 27% year over year increase in demand from UK based shoppers during the pre-Christmas peak.
eShopWorld’s Market & Innovation Review predicts that global retail ecommerce and cross-border ecommerce will show strong growth until 2022 and 2020, respectively, with fashion being the strongest segment, and this represents a huge opportunity for UK brands. With markets like India, Singapore, Indonesia and Brazil rapidly becoming more digitally evolved due to smartphone proliferation, urbanisation and growing middle classes, along with improved delivery infrastructure and more relaxed regulation, the opportunities will be too great for UK-based retailers to not seek to capitalise on.
Of course, easier said than done. Serving international markets well can put a considerable burden on traditional retailers, in terms of building experiences that support and enhance their brands at a global level. To take advantage of the cross-border opportunity, brands need to speak to customers in their language, offer them the payment methods they want, provide a convenient return service and smooth any bumps in the shopping experience that might cause a customer to abandon their cart before check-out.
The investment and resources required to build in-house solutions, and the learning curve associated with understanding and optimising for international markets can sometimes result in a de-prioritisation of international as a development project. But while some brands delay their decision making on a global project, others are mopping up international demand, and building tribes of loyal customers.
Scott Lindsay is head of marketing, EMEA at eShopWorld
Main image: Fotolia
Author image: courtesy of Scott Lindsay/eShopWorld