Over the past 10 years, the retail sector has dramatically evolved. The industry has seen a shift in consumer behaviour towards online shopping and ultimately, e-commerce has changed the face of the market.
The struggles of prominent high-street brands, coupled with the high street favourite Topshop taking the strategic decision to close stores in more recent months, has many people asking why.
While it would be easy to blame online retailers for this demise and conclude that e-retail is the way forward, it’s not quite so simplistic.
In 2012, Anne Davies bought Room to Grow, an online children’s bedroom retailer. When asked about the world of ecommerce, Anne says ‘it excited me as it opened up my store to the UK and beyond.
The world was changing, with an increasing number of people spending time browsing the internet, for their weekly grocery shop, clothing, toys and even furniture. I wanted to be involved in this shift in consumer behaviour and so, borrowed the money to buy the business and invest in a new website.’
The beauty of ecommerce is that businesses are not limited to space or restricted by physical presence. Brands, such as furniture retailers, can display thousands of products online, whereas in a high-street shop, the number of products they could stock would be considerably less and determined by physical space.
Thanks to their ecommerce position, Room to Grow are able to stock over 900 products. In a physical store, huge quantities of these items would require considerable display space.
Taking a single category alone, there are over 150 different variations children’s cabin beds for sale, just imagine how large a space would be required to showcase so many different options!
An online strategy could be regarded as the key to success in the retail sector; if implemented successfully, brands can leverage their online platform to give them a real chance at competing against the big players in their market.
So, for brands looking to take their business forward with an online strategy, or emerging SME business owners looking to launch their very own online retailer, how do you ensure it is a success?
We asked Anne at Room to Grow to share her key learnings from taking her brand through a digital transformation, to ensure it’s well positioned as a key player in the world of children’s bedroom furniture retailers.
First things first, it’s incredibly important to stay abreast of ecommerce trends. In a nutshell, Anne advises ‘shopping habits have changed, and people are more confident at buying online, but that doesn’t necessarily mean on a desktop.
At the start of the customer journey, shoppers spend lots of time browsing on mobile devices; they’re price savvy and looking for the best deal.’
It’s great that shoppers are browsing for specific items online, as well as looking for more generic inspiration. But to be successful, ‘a strong presence is essential. To help build a brand presence, it’s important to find the right digital agency to take your brand to the market.’
From website development to Social Media, SEO and PPC, ‘there are many components that make up a digital strategy and having a team that understands how these components all work together to ensure products are seen by the right customers and the right time, is key.’
For a successful online enterprise, having a strong online presence isn’t the only key to success. With high customer expectations, and without being able to see products in person, Anne stresses the importance of ‘high quality and true to life photography, colour swatches and detailed product descriptions.’
Losing the personal touch completely would be a big mistake for e-retailers; ‘excellent customer service is paramount to happy customers and glowing online reviews.
It may sound simple but having a knowledgeable team who are responsive in answering product queries, taking telephone orders, and dealing with any issues is a must. At the end of the day, people are putting their trust in you when they can’t see and touch the products themselves.’
In conclusion, it’s well regarded that an online presence is vital for success in retail, but on the flip side an e-retailer doesn’t necessarily need to have a physical store for success.
Consumers approach to shopping is continually evolving. In the present times, it’s not uncommon to notice people shopping on the move while on their commute to work, having a coffee in a coffee shop or whilst they’re at home watching TV or even before they go to sleep at night.
We live in a world where people are constantly connected; they are never far from their mobile phone.
Anne herself believes ‘the future is about having an omnichannel experience.’ She recognises that having a physical store, showroom or concession allows customers to come and see and feel the products, even if only a small selection of the product lines.
‘Having a physical store also allows customers to get a real feel for the brand, which is linked to trust.’ That said, Room to Grow has bright plans for the future and ‘have our sights set on opening a store in Yorkshire to reinforce the brand, before carefully opening a handful of stores throughout the UK, where we know the majority of our customers come from.’
As e-retailing continues to grow from strength to strength, it is imperative to keep up with trends as well as the latest technologies, be it augmented reality, delivery tracking or through the development of new product lines.
The retail industry is constantly changing, which presents new and exciting opportunities for brands and customers alike.