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Shopping Is Endlessly Evolving, But Must Work With the Web

Shopping Is Endlessly Evolving, But Must Work With the WebWell, it’s summer, that season of frequently dashed weather hopes, spoiled picnics and barbecues, and summer sales in the shops.

Well, it’s summer, that season of frequently dashed weather hopes, spoiled picnics and barbecues, and summer sales in the shops.

It’s near enough half way between the retailing marathon (but not brilliant for traders) that was last Christmas and the hoped for shopping fest of the next one. Time to just consider where shopping actually is now in this great digital age.

It seems that almost everybody from the Government in the shape of Mary Portas to the Daily Telegraph to the Women’s Institute is trying to save the high street. In the era of a struggling economy and draconian changes in the nation’s shopping habits, survival is easier said than done.

It is becoming obvious that just as the big supermarkets grew the size they are because whatever people say, they like the conveniences of shopping there, so the only way forward for buildings is to work with the net not try to hold it back or defeat it.

Shops Help Online Sales

John Lewis, everybody’s apparently favourite department store has now topped £1bn worth of sales online for the first time. It’s a drop in the ocean but superficially you’d think it points the way that shopping is going with an inevitable decline in actual shops. However, it shows the opposite.

Mark Lewis, John Lewis’ online director, has said publicly that their stores and their online are equally part of the same business. It’s called multichannel retailing, though John Lewis prefers ‘omnichannelling.’

Lewis argues it is all about offering customers a choice across different platforms. The winners will be outlets that offer customers ‘the most convenient and seamless shopping experiences.’

A third of all John Lewis orders are collected in-store as their click-and-collect service has been built up. Customers don’t want to be told where the stores are, they want to find them online, order and collect if easy enough or have delivered if not.

This simple strategy is working for John Lewis Partnership. As sales online rose 41% in the year to January, it was matched with like-for-like sales in stores rising by 2.6%, while many companies and most people expected a downturn in other high street shops.

Changing Retail Itself

So, in the end it seems it’s not really about special events, destination marketing, co-operatives of small local shops, however helpful and desirable they may be. It’s about seeing the company website as not a stand alone add-on, but an integral part of business.

Researching goods online and/or in person, augmented reality or actually trying and sampling, ordering (by phone, in person, app or web) clicks and bricks should work in total harmony to deliver the service being paid for without any apparent gaps.

The customer just wants to look, try, buy and take possession in as easy and stress-free manner as possible.

Put like that, it all sounds relatively simple. If shops cannot sell on line as well as on the ground, then they must co-operate with neighbours to deliver better and sharing costs. They must diversify by using spare shop floor capacity with storage of their own and rivals’ products for customers to collect.

And maybe sell them refreshments or something from their own ranges at the same time.

Mobile Personalisation

The boffins at John Lewis are pushing ahead with developing shopping experiences from the store/web model now working. Others will be looking and learning from that.

Personalised and targeted marketing/advertising from data is already now so well established that few even think there is anything wrong with it.

The smartphone in the hands of most shoppers means they easily tap into more information, reviews and price comparisons. On top of the perfect harmony of looking and shopping at home or out and about equally, it means that shopping will go on changing rapidly.

So, wishing the high streets well is not an exercise in nostalgia. Far from it, it’s an act of business investment in the future mixed economy of the British marketplace.

So, maybe the suggested online sales tax to better balance the war between online and physical (who pay £7bn a year in business rates while online pays nothing) might not matter so much if online and shop are more integrated?

Happy shopping. Already you have less than 170 days to shop before next Christmas!

Other stories to consider, if shopping round our blog pages, and all free to read:

Death of the High Street in the Digital Age Is Over Exaggerated, 4 March 2013

Is the Fantasy of the Smartphone Getting Silly Now? 12 June 2013

If More Data Sharing Is the Answer, What is the Question? 29 April 2013

The Cult of the Smartphone Finally Replaces Common Sense, 13 February 2013

The Smartphone is Becoming the Asset That’s Just Too Big to Lose, 14 January 2013

Counting This Year’s Christmas Costs and Days Till the Next One, 26 December 2012

It’s the Season to Give Away Lots of Valuable Personal Data, 5 December 2012

Hidden Charges Are the Sting in the Tail of Online Shopping, 4 December 2012

What Price Loyalty in Nudging Your Behaviour? 10 July 2012

When Photographic Reality Isn’t Enough, 22 February 2012

Shock and Sell, Cry and Buy: the Slogans of Advertising, 13 December 2011

Image: Infrogmation