In March I attended the BRC Multi-Channel Retail Conference in London to hear industry leaders share their knowledge of what is a rapidly-growing market.
While internet sales are soaring, reports show us that the retailers seeing the greatest success are multichannel retailers - those who have a presence both online and in physical stores - and it's about getting the balance right.
A truly multichannel business must create a "seamless experience" for customers whichever way they choose to shop, John Lewis head of multichannel Simon Russell told delegates. If you put your business online, it needs to conform to the standards you have set offline - enhancing the brand rather than damaging it.
Apparently, John Lewis' multichannel customers spend up to three times more than those shopping via one route only. Having a presence online not only gives you another potential avenue for sales, it can actually boost your sales in store too.
And that's the real message behind multichannel - it's about using new technologies to enhance existing relationships with your customers, to the benefit of your existing business as well as any potential new areas of expansion.
And, while many smaller retailers may not have the money or manpower behind them to create transactional websites and launch TV channels (Argos launches a channel on Sky this summer), all the speakers highlighted exciting opportunities that SMEs should be taking advantage of now.
Retailers big or small need to make sure they have a presence online to keep up with customers who will expect them to be there. You don't need to make a big financial investment to engage with consumers online or put your business information out there.
Social networking is free (although some commitment is required of course), and can be used as an extremely powerful tool to create brand awareness, strengthen customer loyalty and ultimately drive footfall back into store.
Get on Facebook, get on Twitter and tell people why they should be spending their hard-earned cash with you. Customers today will be more likely to Google your business rather than look you up in the Yellow Pages - make sure you're there when they come looking.
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12 May 2011 | 11:01 |