Forget about e-commerce, i-commerce is where it's at

Hugh Baillie: chief executive, FullSIX London
Hugh Baillie: chief executive, FullSIX London

The marketing fraternity has been talking about 'integration' for decades. It's almost become a truism because surely everyone's doing it, right? Not so, argues Hugh Baillie, chief executive, FullSIX London.

Astonishing as it seems, when it comes to internet and mobile strategies working in tandem with traditional ‘shop-front’ branding, retailers are frequently still struggling to deliver a seamless message.

Why? Because all too often, many of the UK’s biggest names choose to run their operations in silos: stores and online are kept separate, leading inevitably to a disconnected approach in which brand sales suffer.

52% of UK consumers don’t currently buy online

It’s a fact that an e-commerce website will improve a retailer’s total sales by 32%. However, on average only 4% of a retailer’s sales comes from the website alone.

Therefore, we should possibly spend less time thinking about how to improve sales via an e-commerce site by tiny incremental amounts and turn our thoughts instead towards "i-commerce" or, "integrated commerce".

I say this with some confidence because we’ve just been talking to a huge number of shoppers – 7000 of them to be precise – via a major new research monitor called ROPO (research online, purchase offline or vice versa).

The numbers when crunched and digested, paint a fairly complex picture of shopping habits. But the need for genuine integration comes through loud and clear.

Retailer lag

One reason we need more integrated thinking is that 52% of UK consumers don’t currently buy online. I’ll just repeat that: 52% of shoppers do not currently buy online. They only buy in-store.

That doesn’t make a retailer’s website any less important though. The sophistication of the UK consumer is such that 69% of them actually visit a retailer’s website at some stage in their shopping journey. They just don’t all choose to make a purchase on the way – yet.

Our research actually found that 37% of the UK’s biggest retailers have a higher digital traffic than their physical stores do. Among them are Argos, EE, Ikea, Lakeland, Wickes, House of Fraser and Selfridges. The website is the shop window. It is not just "the last five yards" it is also a place to represent the brand and to drive people to store.

So while many advertisers and agencies agonise over factors such as product photography or the SEO on e-commerce sites, we should probably be spending more time thinking about more sophisticated and engaging ‘drive to store’ techniques.

We need to tailor content to meet the usage need of the moment

Not every retailer can deliver on Click & Collect. But simple techniques like a clear 'store locator' button or a map jumping out based on the IP address from a desktop or GPS from mobile will make a difference.

B&Q does this well with its "one-weekend only" offers on its homepage which are available only in-store. It's a simple, but effective way of driving people traffic where it’s wanted.

Responsive mobile

There has been a lot of talk about ‘responsive’ design over the past couple of years. To my mind, we need to go further than simply responding to screen size. We need to tailor content to meet the usage need of the moment.

With smartphones, we appear conditioned to scroll faster, spending less time with content. Therefore, the mobile version of a site should be more functional and descriptive than a desktop or tablet version.

People tend to have less time when searching on their mobile phone, therefore I would urge retailers to give them the design and content they want. It ‘s unlikely to be the same as desktop.

Mobile usage will only grow as network capacity and better handsets become increasingly accessible. It surely follows then, that the mobile experience needs to be tailored to enhance a consumer’s in-store experience.

Organisational challenges

To truly get the most from in-store and offline iterations, I believe retailers will need to rethink their structural approach as well as their objectives. Four major questions leap out for me:

1. Why do retail organisations pour huge effort and resources into optimising their online sales effort when the best role for the site is in driving a more integrated conversion?

2. Why are so many e-commerce managers measured only in online sales?

3. Why do many retailers still run businesses with separate e-commerce and store divisions?

4. How can retailers merge their back-end technologies to enable integrated commerce?

Addressing these questions will take time and may lead to major organisational reconfigurations but the benefits in the long-run will be seismic.

Retailers need to challenge current thinking on the role of their website and what it represents

Time for a rethink

E-commerce should be consigned to history. Consumers as ever, lead the way with their sophisticated patterns of integrated shopping.

The challenge is for retailers to catch up. Without doubt, our research suggests that retailers need to challenge current thinking on the role of their website and what it represents.

As part of this analysis, these companies need to rethink their internal organisations and how stores and website can work more effectively together.

It is not about increasing the conversion of either your website or your store by tiny amounts but how you can increase your overall sales, guiding your consumer to purchase more often, whether that be on or offline.

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