The Traditional High-street Versus The Digital High-street
Can you think of any industries and businesses that would have no benefit from having an on-line presence?
Lumberjacks? No, they’d probably find benefit in having contact details and areas of operation hosted on a website.
Dry cleaners? Well, what are the opening times? Is it worth me bringing my mohair suit across town?
Taking the move towards establishing an on-line presence has been a wise move for some time now, but there are still industries that seem to neglect the opportunities that even a rudimentary on-line presence can provide.
Put it this way, if a local lumberyard continues to operate solely in a brick-and-mortar fashion then they can only reach the people in their area. Perhaps some people will travel to visit the shop but, on the whole, the company’s reach is limited.
Consider the number of internet users in the UK right now: over 44 and a half million people. In terms of an increase in potential custom, reaching just 0.5% of the internet users in the UK sees a potential customer base increase of 222,500. Make some rough profit estimates based on this figure and the motivation to move into the digital world should be clear enough.
Does a butcher in Marsden really need to sell their meats across the country? Possibly not, they may be comfortable serving their local customers and happy with the business they do.
The trouble is that not all shops have the benefit of a loyal, recurring customer base. Footfall into towns has been dwindling and increases to do so as more and more retailers focus their efforts on the digital markets.
The opportunities that a digital presence can offer go much further than sales. Advertising on-line can be much more finely targeted than a billboard or newspaper advert, something that the traditional industries are catching onto.
Paul McFadyen, Managing Director at Metals4U, said: “Our business began as a traditional metal store in Pontefract, West Yorkshire in 1997. As the business grew, I became increasingly aware that we were missing opportunities by trading solely as a physical shop.
“In 2007 we made the decision to further grow the business by launching an on-line store. This enabled us to significantly increase our potential customer base, increase the range of products we offer our customers and considerably increase our turnover.
“Traditional industries really do need to consider a digital presence to enable them to remain in business and stay competitive in their market place.
Since going digital, we have seen our profits increase year after year and the number of orders we are able to fulfill continues to grow the business. 95% of our sales are now through our on-line store.”
Moving into the digital sphere comes with a wide variety of benefits, one of which is a reduction in overheads. The lack of a physical store in favour of a dedicated warehouse-cum-office allows a much larger product range to be stocked and negates the need to arrange it in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
Products with a lower conversion rate can be stocked indefinitely, and the notion that they’d be taking up valuable retail space disappears. Delivery services also make it easier for customers to buy exactly what they need without having to worry about traveling to the shop or whether their product will fit in the car.
It’s hard to imagine a world without ecommerce at this point in time. The internet pervades so much of our lives now that it won’t be long before every living generation has seen significant exposure and exercises a high degree of proficiency interacting with it.
In light of this, ignoring the business opportunities it allows would mean missing a trick. For much lower start-up and overhead costs than investing in a physical premises in a different area of the UK (not to mention Europe, for example), a business can sell their wares and services across the country or, with a bit of work, the whole world.
Eventually I predict a wealth of alternative opportunities for interacting with customers, away from PCs, tablets and phones. Interactive adverts have been trialled over the past year and I don’t think it will be long before smart TVs have a ‘click-to-buy’ feature.
With the advent of augmented reality technology, coupled with wearables such as Google’s Glass, buying a new shirt could be as easy as looking at the chap across from you on the train and muttering “Order one of these in a medium please, Glass”.
If this does take off (and it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t eventually) then I predict that physical stores could see a renaissance of sorts as a form of showroom. You could go down to the showroom, check out the products you want or need and then either order them then and there using a wearable or in-store computer interface or, alternatively, at a later date in the comfort of your own home.
What About You?
How do you feel about the future of ecommerce? Do you agree or disagree with anything?
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About the Author
Matt Chappell is a blogger with a keen interest in the technology of the future. He regularly writes about business technology, productivity and best practice.