Interviews

How e-commerce can be harnessed to help local businesses

The online retail giants may appear unassailable, but a local solution combined with a digital strategy may help small retailers find a chink in their armour, writes Joris Kroese, founder and CEO of Hatch

Last year, the retail industry witnessed an extraordinary shift, from in-store to online shopping due to COVID-19. Now, Black Friday and various end of year promotions pushed online sales even further, to record heights in the final fiscal quarter of the year. With many consumers making their first-ever online purchase in 2020, digital transformation accelerated at an unprecedented pace.

Within the retail industry, Amazon has often been referred to as “the commerce aggregator”. This sentiment has been driven even further during 2020, through the expansion of Amazon’s operations which saw the company add 400,000 workers to bring its total workforce to 1 million. In addition, Amazon increased its warehouse capacity by 50% while also adding 20 airplanes to expand its air cargo fleet.

Other factors in the shift to online shopping include the fact that many consumers are now glued to their phones and other screens. This creates an ideal environment for digital marketing, advanced analytics, and profiling to allow online retailers to target prospective buyers with pinpoint accuracy. Accurate product information, reviews and comparison allow the consumer to quickly make a well-informed purchase decision. The well-engineered user experience funnels people through the process that takes a few clicks to complete a purchase. Products can then be delivered within 24 hours or, in some cases, on the same day.

How can local stores compete with this and keep up with the fast-changing shift to digital and shift in market share?

In my example above I mention Amazon as a pure player, but luckily many traditional retailers have also developed strong e-commerce capabilities. Though they are far smaller businesses, they equally benefit from digital transformation.

Furthermore, the majority of sales still take place in local stores (lockdown exceptions aside) and that is not expected to change drastically in the foreseeable future. Amazon is opening physical stores for that very reason. Apple also invests heavily in its premium retail footprint through its flagship stores. A solid omnichannel approach with a seamless cross-channel experience is key.

One of the biggest advantages that local stores have is proximity. Whether ordered online (for click and collect) or directly in-store, people will always want access to products in a nearby store for a variety of reasons including:

  • Instant gratification
  • The psychological aspects and social experience of shopping
  • The ability to see, touch and feel a product and have it demonstrated
  • Personalization or customization
  • Installation support
  • To receive product advice
  • The in-store brand experience
  • Aftercare and support

With that in mind, I believe that for local stores to compete with “big-commerce”, the best way forward is to leverage their (product) proximity online at the places where people make their purchase decisions while using digital marketing technology. I believe this creates a seamless experience across channels.

As a store in a particular city, you are close to hundreds of thousands of consumers who have a desire to buy in a nearby store as outlined with the reasons above. These consumers are just not always aware of the product availability in a nearby store. While retailers often show in-store availability on their site, consumers may not even be aware that a specific store sells the products they are looking for. As a result, they may not end up on the site of that retailer.

With blindspots in product availability remaining for consumers shopping at brick and mortar stores, Based on our historical data and prognosis, we expected 2020 shopping events to break all existing e-commerce records. With an eye on the restrictions in place, it is harder than ever before for local retailers to stay visible in the foreseeable future.

In my opinion, the quick win here would be to leverage digital channels. However, in the mid-to-long-term, it is more important than ever to make sure your store is easy to find online while guiding visitors there. One way this can be accelerated is through Where-to-Buy technology, offering a practical solution that helps clients, brands and retailers.

Where-to-buy technology assists retailers with what is known as proximity marketing. If a brand’s site is activated with this capability, it can use the consumer’s location data to show nearby in-store availability for each product at SKU level and promote this data across a wide variety of touchpoints other than the retailer’s website.

The technology can be used towards social commerce, where fans and followers can integrate the technology (in-store commerce) with product placement. Another potential use is with outdoor marketing (think about an outdoor/ billboard campaign or a geo-fence within an online marketing campaign).

By listing these examples, we hope to encourage retailers to rethink their digital strategy beyond the traditional channels. Even Amazon cannot compete with the nearby availability that all retailers have to offer. Retailers just need to better market this capability and unique selling point to potential consumers.

So to summarise, there are three key points that I think are very important to keep in mind for local retailers to get the most of any gifting season:

  • Leverage your product proximity online. This will become one of the main drivers for your footstep traffic and drive direct sales.
  • Build a strong omnichannel presence. There are plenty of customers who prefer to buy locally rather than online, but this year demonstrated that the most successful brands are those who leverage all their sales channels.
  • Embrace digital transformation to create a seamless experience for your customers.

Leverage your product proximity online – this will become one of the main drivers for your footstep traffic and drive direct sales.

To learn more about Hatch’s omnichannel where-to-buy solutions, please visit gethatch.com.

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