21st Century Retail

With the global e-commerce spend poised to hit €825bn in 2012, and the fastest growing e-commerce markets experiencing year on year growth in excess of 10%, is there a future for retail businesses without a strong online presence?

The Only Way Is Online

It is expected that 1 in 5 of all purchases will be made online by 2016 and it is abundantly clear that the influence mobile commerce is having on consumer behaviour is contributing in a large way to shifting buying activity away from the high street and (literally) into the hands of consumers.

Purchases made via smartphones or tablets in Western Europe alone are set to increase elevenfold by 2017, and it’s clear that successful exploitation of the mobile commerce market will be imperative to the sustainability of retail buiness.

E-commerce is here to stay, and there is no question as to the upwards trajectory of total online spending, so do bricks and mortar retailers still have their place?

After all, consumers like to browse physical goods, they enjoy the social interaction, but businesses do need to ensure their shopping channels evolve to satisfy changing consumer behaviour.

The online shopping market is growing at such a rate that by 2016 it is expected that more than 1 in 5 purchases will be made online, and this presents a huge opportunity not only for new retailers, but also for existing ones to capitalise on the market, and satisfy the evolving needs of their customers.

This evolution has been happening for some time, and with 3.5bn people expected to have access to the internet by 2013, understanding the way consumers research and purchase products should be at the forefront of any retailers sales strategy.

Convenience, value and product range access are the three highest ranking reasons consumers gave for shopping online instead of on the high street, but a recent phenomenon marries both high street and online shopping together, and it is this transition that retailers need to exploit effectively to succeed in this changing marketplace.


Much has been said recently about the advent of ‘Browse Instore / Buy Online’, and this is impacting on those retailers who sell products at prices that cannot compete with online stores who have lower overheads.

eBay opened a pop up shop with no tills (purchases had to be made on the eBay site) in London in December 2011 to cash in on mobile shopping habits and this is perhaps one way that traditional bricks and mortar retailers can evolve their offering to keep up with the shift in consumer behaviour.


The ability of shoppers to ‘Browse Online / Buy Instore’ satisfies those consumers who want to research in detail, see, hear and feel a product before making a commitment to purchase, and this can be capitalised on by offering a strong online proposition which drives people to the store, where stocks are held simply for demonstration only.

One thing that retailers need to do now, is ensure that their online presence has a clearly defined purpose, either as a ‘Browse’ or ‘Buy’ channel, so that the business satisfies the needs of your customers.

There is no question that those retailers who fail to embrace e-commerce will suffer. Using your store as a showroom, and your site as a purchase channel, or using your site to drive people to your store, in order to have a product demonstrated for example, are both viable ways to embrace consumer behaviour and will contribute to the sustainability of your retail business.

This is a guest blog by David Arthur. David has been involved in the small business sector since early 2010, and alongside his role as a Business Banking Manager for a FTSE100 institution, is the founder of small business blog AllAboutSME