Teaching a new dog old tricks

Scott Lester, CEO Flixmedia.tv argues that online retailers need to learn some old-school tricks from the high street if they are to realise their true potential.

Scott Lester
Scott Lester

When Calvin Klein in South Molton Street and Agent Provocateur in Selfridges used live models as shop window mannequins, they were lauded for their clever sales techniques. It was interesting to see how even top high street retailers recognised the need to contrast the traditional static displays with live moving images. Online retailers should take note.

Despite good Christmas sales for many online outlets, it would be foolish to be complacent. Online retailing is an art not just a service and there is much to learn from the successful high street chains about visual marketing techniques.

Online shopping is still in its infancy – according to the Office for National Statistics online sales account for just 3.7% of the UK retail market (you can push this to 15% if you listen to the IMRG). Despite the fanfares and stories about “Mega Mondays” and better than expected seasonal sales, we are still talking about a young and inexperienced sales channel that lacks the sophistication and influence of the high street.

Perhaps the key for online shops is to look at what works in the high street – the use of presentations, demonstrations, eye-catching gimmicks and stunts have all played major roles in attracting customers to shops and even counters within larger shops. Web and video technology is now clever enough to cope with even the craziest of marketing ideas. When online shops first emerged during the dotcom boom, plenty of good retail ideas fell away. The technology was not ready but today the only real limitation is imagination.

There was an interesting statistic recently from technology outfit Amaze which found that 87% of shoppers abandon their shopping baskets at the checkout. Imagine this happening in a shop? Managers would scream and demand heads roll.

For online retailers this is indicative of a lack of confidence in buying online. So how do we increased the confidence of the buyer so that they feel more compelled to enter their credit card details?

When you boil it down to its bare bones, selling on the internet is like the mail-order catalogue business. It’s about showing off products with images and getting the pricing and delivery right. But the internet can go one better. It has the ability to push boundaries with new technologies, explore the use of video and interactive images as well as engage with customers through social networks. But how many online shops actually do this?

This interaction helps to build confidence in a brand and its products. This in turn helps to build loyalty among consumers. You only have to look at the online success stories to realise that the web can be an excellent channel for any shop as long as the layout, content and marketing is right. Sites such as Amazon are setting the pace with the use of video and social media, customer interaction and even offering alternative sales channels through the marketplace. It’s up to other online retailers to catch-up.

Using new technologies and rich media to try and differentiate products is essential online. It’s the virtual version of the live mannequins. It’s also a tactic employed by a number of traditional retailers to try and differentiate their online shops and inspire consumers with rich product marketing. High street retailers have been doing this for years in shop window displays.

The internet can now offer etailers a rich sales platform but it’s still surprising to see some online shops kick off with little to no marketing, poor product displays and limited customer engagement. Even on a basic level marketing any site is essential and there are plenty of free means to do this, with social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and even business networks such as Viadeo.

The end of the ’noughties’ was great for online retail. It finished the decade with a bang but now it has to step up another level. Customers are growing more sophisticate online and will increasingly demand a more interactive experience, making their purchasing decision as easy as if they were physically in the shop. That is the aim for the next decade and potentially the catalyst for an exciting boom in online shopping.


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