I don't know about you, but my news feed has been absolutely flooded with articles on the growth of mobile commerce and the changing face of retail. As visitors to ecommerce sites are now more likely to visit from a mobile or tablet than desktop this marks a huge change in user behaviour you just can't ignore.
Where did it all start?
Like many historical events, the birth of ecommerce is not one without controversy. Whilst many rivals have challenged his claim, it widely acknowledged that Daniel Kohn (and three of his friends) was the first to conduct a secure online shopping transaction on August 11, 1994.
In theory it was already possible to buy and sell products online, but Kohn was the first to complete a secure payment that even the National Security Agency couldn’t hack. Sparking a dramatic change, Kohn’s technology enabled entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, in July 1995, to start selling books out of his room in Seattle. Today, Jeff’s company, Amazon, is worth $152bn – need I say any more.
Online vs. Offline
It's a little harsh to blame the demise of bricks and mortar stores on Kohn, but it is fair to say that his development changed the way that we would shop forever. Enabling consumers to make secure purchases, the success of online shopping is based entirely on the choice and convenience that it offers. Once we had discovered that we could buy millions of different products with the click of a mouse, there was no stopping us.
For years it has been predicted that online retail would be the eventual end of the high-street. Whilst we have lost a number of significant players due to a lack of ecommerce offering, the good news however is that retailers are now inherently aware of the importance of maintaining a viable online experience.
It's not easy for the smaller retailer to remain competitive in a sector which is heavily dominated by big brands. Let's face it, Amazon alone offers more than 100 million distinct products; so is it any wonder that retailers of all sizes are struggling to compete.
Case in point: Taking some responsibility
In the UK when we heard that HMV was on the brink of closure, we flooded to the stores to help bolster up the brand and restore sales - all be it a little late. The sad truth is that we all contributed to the near demise of his 90 year old brand. But who can blame us?
I have always been a music enthusiasts and to this day, still prefer to buy a CD than digital download. However, HMV was never my first port of call for my next CD. Compared with the likes of Amazon and Tesco, His Master's Voice always came up a little on the expensive side - and well - we are all trying to save a pound or two where we can.
In 2004, iTunes was not yet a household name and yet despite the lack of competition, HMV's failed to respond to the digital market and did not launch its HMVDigital store until summer 2010 by which time it was too late.
Learning from our mistakes
The saving grace of the high street is our sense of compassion and ownership. Whilst the internet can satiate our need to save a pound or two on the latest mobile phone or camera, it cannot replace the bricks and mortar experience that many of our great brands have been built upon.
The good news is that although the high street retail sector continues to face challenges as consumers move online and turn to their mobile devices, a number of experts are now seeing a move back to traditional retailing with many online retailers opening stores on the high street. In my opinion the high-street needs ecommerce just as much as ecommerce needs the high-street; especially in the case of established heritage brands and new start ups.
Online shopping has come a long way since Daniel Kohn’s development in 1994 and as a result, has changed the way that consumers shop and browse. Today, there are a number of different options available to the retailer which not only provide consumers with a fantastic online experience but also support and enhance your bricks and mortar store.
Here are my top tips for growing your retail business:
1. Go mobile
Providing consumers with a mobile offering is one of the most important things to consider when starting a retail business. Shopify, one of the most popular open source shopping carts has seen mobile traffic overtake desktop accounting for 50.3%. There are two different types of mobile solutions you can offer; a mobile web/responsive website which can be accessed via any browser on any device, or a native app which is downloaded from an app store.
2. Integrate offline
In the US a number of online retailers have begun to open retail stores for consumers to get a feel for their products. Commonly known as Guideshops, these stores offer a one to one service for buyers to try before they buy. Menswear brand Bonobos has successfully rolled out this model in 9 cities across the US. Find out how it works.
Especially prevalent in the fashion industry, there are now a number of apps that have been developed to provide brands with exposure and consumers with the best possible shopping experience. Leading the way is an new start-up called Spring. Claiming to capture "that feeling of walking 5th avenue or your favourite mall", Spring offers brands a parent app where they can post products. Connected to your back-end system, Spring offers items for immediate sale with a dangerously easy to use 'one touch' checkout.
Time to evolve
According The Telegraph, "Personalisation is the new battle ground for online retailing. With many consumers shopping using their smartphones, retailers have to ensure that their websites and apps are relevant and quick." Offering a bricks and mortar store alongside your mobile app and ecommerce store will provide consumers with a fulfilling experience that they won't be able to ignore. If you take away one thing it should be that both ecommerce and retail stores share the same principles; put the right products, in the right place and in front of the right people.