Few things have become as embedded in our culture in recent years as shopping and the internet. From a slow start just over a decade ago, when much was promised but little was delivered, today e-retail is an industry worth over £40bn. It encompasses pretty much every sector, and is growing at such an extent that industry forecasts indicate that 90 per cent of all retail sales will be either online or influenced by the internet by 2020.
Even areas which were initially thought of as not receptive to the virtual world, such luxury goods and big-ticket furniture, are realising that multichannel retailing is becoming a very profitable route to market.
For instance, Selfridges has recently launched its first transactional website after once describing online shopping as the “antithesis of department store shopping”.
Smaller retailers are also increasing developing successful sites. Recent news that Heal’s is in negotiations to close its Manchester store in favour of focusing on expansion through heals.co.uk does not surprise me. Our weekly high street sales tracker across mid-market homeware chains has consistently shown online outgrowing store based sales by over 45 per cent.
With growth like this it is no wonder one leading executive put to me last year “multichannel’s an absolute no brainer”.
The biggest common fear that still crops up is that going online will cannibalise store sales and cause considerable problems with delivery and returns. The reality is that in the vast majority of cases this scenario does not occur. Most retailers have found that online creates a win-win situation. Driving footfall into stores because overall brand presence is wider, and creating a profitable revenue stream that is protected from the vagaries of high street trading.
Ultimately of course, seeing, touching and feeling still matters, but trading in cyberspace has firmly arrived.