Advice offered to online traders

Advice offered to online traders

Many firms are wasting their online opportunities by failing to engage with users, according to experts

Many UK merchants are labouring under poor leadership and are struggling to keeping pace with changing customer expectations, despite the UK being hailed as the most mature online market in the world, according to experts at the first annual E-commerce Expo in London.

Opening the event, James Roper, chief executive of industry body the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) argued that the growth in broadband, merchant capacity, and the familiarity of many consumers with the channel is culminating in a “perfect storm of growth this year which will swamp any unready vessels”.

He added that only half of the brands in the IMRG’s quarterly top 50 list are traditional bricks and mortar retailers, highlighting a huge opportunity for those retailers. “All too often the problem is that the people running the companies are the wrong people – they haven’t had the opportunity of gaining a vision [of online retailing],” he argued.

Roper also argued that poor delivery strategies are still undermining many online retailers’ businesses. “When we look at what people disapproved of the top is always delivery - it’s just not good enough and we all know that,” he said.

Roper also hinted at a new initiative is on its way in the next few weeks from the IMRG, which will give merchants cheap multi-carrier options to offer their customers, and could have “a huge impact on the quality of delivery”.

Tony Stockil, chief executive of retail consultancy Javelin Group, agreed that convenience is the main reason that people shop online and those firms which are able to drive convenience usually succeed where those purely competing on price don’t.

Despite the immaturity of the internet retail market, the UK still leads the way globally, in terms of the proportion of the population shopping online and ad spend, argued Google director Matt Brittin.

But retailers are struggling with the increased competition, the different economics and shift in balance of power to the consumer in this new environment, he added. Brittin advised firms to improve their efforts to be found online, and urged bricks and mortar stores to ensure they list all their items on the web sites, even if they are not sold online, or risk losing customers who use the channel to research offline purchases.

He added that firms could try YouTube marketing and other campaigns to improve their web profile, but warned that any efforts should be coordinated to present a clear message to the consumer.

“We need to think how to become more flexible to keep up with the consumer and … ask ourselves ‘is this a core opportunity to us, should it be run by a separate team, or outsourced’,” he argued. “A good way to approach [your site] is as a work in progress – that mindset works well and is why many pure play online vendors do well.”

But although it may be harder for traditional stores to adapt to this new way of developing their online channel, many have an advantage in offering a trusted brand which many consumers may seek out in the face of the “tyranny of choice” online, as long as they are clear about what they stand for, he argued.