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4 tips for retailers on getting ahead and innovating in 2018

(Image credit: Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock)

The rise of smartphones and tablets has made retail more competitive than ever. With more consumers engaging with and exploring the digital landscape, retailers are seeing a shift in the products people are choosing and how they choose them.

The old days of consumers needing to touch products before making a purchase are gone. Consumers across the world are shopping items online in greater numbers every year – and it is helping to bridge the gap between big retailers and fledgling brands.  

Yet creating a strong online presence is no easy task – it’s no longer a case of simply having a website. Consumers want to be able to communicate with retailers, with on-demand service at their fingertips.    

For those retailers looking to get ahead of their competitors online, success will lie in finding innovative ways of establishing their online presence. So, what exactly should brands be doing?  

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at e-tail trade association IMRG, recognises the importance of innovation, but warns brands to remain focused on the retail fundamentals when introducing new capability.  

“The main thing to remember is to focus on doing ‘good’ retail, irrespective of channel or technology – providing experiences that work for customers, maintaining consistency with the business’ proposition, listening to what customers want and avoiding doing tech for tech’s sake.”  

Modern retail is hugely competitive, and as shoppers head online to make purchases, any slowdown in the user experience or disparity between the information displayed and product availability is a fast track route to losing them.  Online is increasingly used as a purchasing channel, but retailers must think carefully about what channels they’re using as well as how they’re using them to succeed. Here’s how to do it.   

1. Understanding the meaning of TCO when evaluating e-commerce solutions

Examining how online retailers evaluate specific cost considerations when comparing cloud-based and on-premise commerce solutions is important.    

TCO over the eCommerce project lifecycle includes platform set-up fees, operational expenditure, capital expenditure, server infrastructure, upgrades and integrations – these investment points must be considered when it comes to making the choice between cloud or on-premise.  

The cost to develop an eCommerce proposition doesn’t end the moment a website goes live, so work with a partner that wants to share in your success.  

Ciarán Bollard, CEO at Kooomo, says his company has a vested interest in the success of its partner brands because it operates on a shared success model. If Kooomo’s partners succeed then it succeeds, he argues.  

“I don’t believe that we should be charging a huge amount of cash for any brand to get access to the platform or to get access to digital commerce to showcase their products and to turbo-boost their sales,” he notes.  

“I don’t believe in that model and I think that model ultimately will end up being phased out. It should be about embracing brands, bringing them on our platform and having a shared success. It is a model that shares that success on the brand side and on the platform side.” 

2. Think Cloud    

Cloud-based eCommerce platforms tend to be more agile than on-premise equivalents, and more affordable when considering total cost of ownership (TCO).

Cloud-based platforms are resource light, and will not require expensive systems integration investment or additional hardware costs. Analyst group Forrester says that software as a service will account for 66% of all software spending by 2019, as companies continue to realise the benefits of cloud technology.  

The beauty of cloud-based eCommerce is its flexibility, and the ease in which other systems can be integrated.  

The best eCommerce platforms incorporate distributed order management (DOM), allowing brands to take control of all their sales channels and choose the most cost-effective fulfilment method. Retailers heading online for the first time should consider this level of sophisticated fulfilment if they want to maintain their margins. 

3. Choose the right influencers  

Retail has evolved from what it was even a few years ago. Like it or not, influencers have become a central component of successful retail strategies, and have the potential to help your business move from local to global.    

It’s important to know that when establishing your business on a global level, retailers and brands need to localise their marketing and understand what attracts customers in different territories. Methods that work in the UK might not always work abroad – it’s not simply a case of putting up a website and waiting for customers to buy.  

Local influencers – usually those with a strong social media following – can provide brands with assistance when entering new countries, so companies should consider identifying those with the greatest voice in their sector. 

4. Online Marketplaces  

Online retail is big business, with eMarketer expecting global eCommerce to be worth $4.1 trillion by 2020, accounting for 14.6% of total retail sales.  

Online marketplaces continue to grow in popularity too, with Amazon and eBay leading the way in the Western hemisphere. Global cross-border eCommerce is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020, according to a study from Accenture and Alibaba Group's research arm, AliResearch.    

Although brands want to maintain their individuality online and to create their own proposition, selling on third-party platforms presents huge brand exposure opportunities. In New Zealand, for example, Trade Me has more users than Facebook, and in China, over 90% of online sales are conducted on marketplaces.

Times are changing quickly and retailers and brands need to work with eCommerce partners ready to embrace that change and provide flexible platforms on which the future can be built.  

Dune’s Rob Silsbury comments: “Your brand is channel agnostic and must be consistent wherever your customer chooses to engage with it.      

“Obviously there are specific nuances that you must get right from a digital point of view, but in the main, building your brand online should focus on all the same things that you would focus on offline too. Be customer centric in all that you do and you won’t go far wrong.”  

There is a lot to think about for brands embarking on their online journeys, but with the right eCommerce platform partner, their lives can be made simpler and their success can be amplified.   

Ciarán Bollard, CEO of Kooomo (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock

Ciaran is CEO of cloud commerce platform, Kooomo. With more than 20 years’ experience growing online media and digital commerce businesses, Ciaran is the driving force behind the retail innovator.