Online shopping need not take the wind out of high street retailers’ January sales. Post-Christmas spending figures show that the most successful shops and brands were those with an internet presence that complemented their in-store offers.
Eleven of the top 15 retailers to benefit from increased online traffic after Christmas were high street brands, according to internet data research company Hitwise. These included John Lewis, Next, Currys, Debenhams, Tesco Direct and Comet. In other words, bricks mean clicks – the figures underline the fact that a customer’s buying journey, online and offline, is one joined-up channel.
Cyber Monday – the first Monday of December that was previously the busiest day for online shopping – is a result of consumers finding what they want on the high street over the weekend before scouting for the best deals and making their decisions online at the start of the week. British shoppers spent an estimated £350m on Cyber Monday in 2009. Boxing Day was busier still, before a new ‘Cyber Monday’ was established – the 28 December, which was the busiest online shopping day of last year. People bought the items they had seen before Christmas and coveted over the festive season when the prices came down.
So, the web is becoming a more trusted and therefore popular way to shop. But the journey starts in high street stores – shoppers touch, try and play with the items they want, then find the same items at better prices online. The brands that will be most successful in-store and online are those that recognise the customer journey is not simply about going to a shop and buying an item, but actually includes high street and internet research.
And it is worth shoppers’ while – price comparison website Kelkoo said consumers who bought online saved an average of 20 per cent compared with high street prices on the top 10 items searched for before Christmas.
The trend is set to continue in the grocery sector: online food shopping is predicted to reach £7.2bn in sales value by 2014, according to new research from grocery analysts IGD. That would almost double the figure for 2009.
For retailers, making an impact on the path to purchase in the real and digital world should be about more than simply offering the best prices. They should focus on ways of creating a unique online shopping experience that replicates the physical in-store experience shoppers’ love and trust in order to drive preference for their brands.
How to do it? There are already some good, high-profile examples: John Lewis offers a clean, easy-to-use website reminiscent of its in-store experience. Its web pages offer a ‘Have you thought about’ section underneath items clicked on by shoppers that features other products that would be useful – for instance, it recommends the right batteries for any given digital radio.
The key is to find ways to drive impulse buys in a non-impulsive environment. High street retailers with an online presence should look at Amazon.co.uk’s use of the ‘People who bought this item also bought…’ mechanic. It’s an effective method of driving sales because it puts relevant product information in front of online shoppers in a non-obtrusive way.
Nor should retailers ignore social media – an increasingly influential part of the research consumers carry out before making decisions. Pay attention to user reviews and listen to what your customers are saying by tracking conversations on social media. Use this information to respond to negative and positive feedback – particularly negative: a problem solved will result in massive word-of-mouth brand brownie points among consumers. Use social media to involve customers with your brand and engage them – this will help to keep them loyal.
Wholefoods Market and Dell are both superb examples of those who have incorporated social media into the customer service function with a positive effect on the bottom line.