Secret Marketer: High street retailers should focus on the benefits of being local to compete with digital

As retailers announce their Christmas trading figures, it is interesting to note that those that did well credit their success to online sales almost without exception. In contrast, those that underwhelmed the markets blame digital competitors and their own inability to respond quickly.

What’s also interesting, however, is how weak the bricks-and-mortar brands have been in pushing the USPs of their offer, whereas the digital marketplace has been quick to stress the ease of online ordering, the simplicity of click-and-collect and, in many cases, cheaper prices.

I find the high street brands’ inability or reluctance to fight back bemusing. After all, online shopping is not without its flaws. In the lead up to Christmas, I encountered all sorts of issues as an online consumer. I panicked when orders failed to arrive without the added comfort of the ‘sorry we could not deliver while you were out’ cards left on my doormat; I worried that what I had ordered would be the wrong size, colour or different quality from the image on the website; and I was certain that I would have no time to take corrective action. Surely the CMOs of high street brands can point to each of these as reasons to shop locally, rather than online?

Although I have different challenges in my day-job as a CMO, one thing that is common is my fear over not being able to control my end-to-end supply chain and relying on someone else to complete the final steps that produce the end result, which everyone holds me accountable for. It’s the same with online retailers. They control the product, promotion and price, but the moment it leaves their depots, their product and reputation is in the hands of the delivery company.

Don’t get me wrong – I think they all do a fine job, with 99% of deliveries arriving in every corner of the UK in double-quick time. But why are the 1% of deliveries that go wrong always mine?

That is why I am so impressed with where online retail giant Amazon is taking its business model. First it was rumours of drones, then the purchase of 20 Boeing 767s to connect its 120 massive warehouses, then reports that it had bought ‘thousands of truck trailers’, and now there is talk of an ‘Uber-like’ service using self-employed private car drivers to fulfil its Amazon Now one-hour delivery service planned for London and other major cities – all great examples of cutting out the middle man.

Although Amazon should be applauded, I remain disconcerted that our traditional retailers have done so little to exploit the current risks in the online shopping model while they still can.

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