Mark Kirschner, executive officer of global marketing at Rakuten, discusses the importance of an online presence for independent retailers.
Over 60% of Europe’s population use the internet regularly so why are independent retailers frightened of leaping out into the online world? Having celebrated Independent Retailer’s month in the UK, which champions local and small retailers, the important influence that these businesses have on the local high street has been highlighted. However, the initiative doesn’t pay attention to consumers shopping online and the avenues that digital opens up for local retailers. Currently only 14% of British small businesses are selling their products online and it is predicted that less than half of the 33% will be selling online by 2015 according to the European Commission’s Digital Agenda. Small retailers seem to be mistaking the internet as a tool for large enterprises, but for those retailers looking to grow and develop internationally, online offers huge advantages – and small businesses don’t need to go it alone.
Use a marketplace to support your business online
Marketplaces like Rakuten’s Play.com offer an online arm for small retailers to sell their products, so that small businesses don’t have to set up websites on their own. With a marketplace an infrastructure already exists so independent retailers can reap the benefits of using their ready-made payment processes, delivery options and online store front. Furthermore, with a base of customers readily available, marketplaces offer a secure place for retailers to position themselves online and break into new markets. Rakuten works with retailers to ensure that they still remain autonomous whilst being a part of a larger online store; in Japan small retailers can create their own identity and shop front. Small retailers can protect their independent roots but a presence on a network is a great way to develop a customer base online.
Link online and the high street with collect in store
Linking online and offline will be key to the future success of the high street because the purchase process is changing. Shoppers increasingly compare prices and research products online before buying in store showing the importance of online presence to aid offline sales. Last Christmas collect in store services became a phenomenon with many retailers linking their online and offline offerings through this technology, in fact 10.4% of all E-commerce sales in the UK last Christmas were due to click and collect according to the IMRG. Many high street retailers offer the service meaning that consumers save on delivery costs and businesses benefit from being able to build personal relationships in store.
Use social media to drive sales in store
Having a presence on Twitter and Facebook is a brilliant way to shout about your business and adventure into the online world as well as bring shoppers in store. Social media can be used to communicate and showcase happy customers and enables small businesses to build a local community online. JWT Intelligence found that over 40% of men and over a third of women are more likely to purchase a product if it has been recommended via social network. Going online doesn’t mean the offline offering becomes less important; you can use geographic services like FourSquare to encourage shoppers to visit your store and images on Pinterest to sell and recommend products creatively. Continue to link online and offline by hosting social media competitions in store and offer discounts for checking in!
Go from local to global
Online opens up realms of opportunity for independent retailers looking to grow. An untapped audience is waiting for small retailers who can venture out of their local environment to the worldwide customer base on the web. With the internet, small businesses are able to reach audiences that they have never previously been able to connect with and as online is borderless, it enables users to buy from other countries. Where marketplaces are trusted in a foreign country, consumers are happy to buy from unfamiliar and small brands.
Independent retailers need to get online or they risk missing out on the opportunities that this channel opens up. Offline doesn’t need to suffer; working in conjunction with the high street, marketplaces create another touchpoint for shoppers to browse and buy from which is convenient, trusted and reliable. By capitalising on the services that online retail offers, small businesses can develop their digital presence and connect people with their local high street too.