‘It ain’t easy ‘ ….Being an online retailer !

It is also the title of a David Bowie song from way back in the early 1970’s, way before the internet, but not door to door van deliveries. My ‘Old Mum’ used to give her greengrocer a written list and he delivered it to the front door a day later. And she was doing that in the sixties. No internet, no iffy broadband, no crashing web sites, no ‘out of battery‘ phones. Pen, paper, man in greengrocer and a green van ( colour that is, not in the slightest bit eco-friendly) . Simples as a wise Meerkat once said.

That Greengrocer eventually closed because of the rise of the supermarket. What do you make of that because my mother then had to drive to get her greengroceries. Now, it was not down to my mother that all independents closed, but there is some irony in that some consumers lost an element of convenience in the name of convenient shopping.

Race forward sixty years and we are back to delivering our purchases via a method somewhat more complex than pen and paper. Before the shout goes out about the Internet killing the retailer , unfair competition blah, blah, blah., lets just take a gander (Look for non native English speakers of whom I know there are a few , or at least one or two)over the last 18 months . With the various lockdowns throughout Covid, the retail environment would have been even more dire. Dare one say the emotional health of the nation would have been somewhat worse the wear, in that costumers were , when finances allowed, able to indulge in a huge variety of product, whether books ,puzzles, hobbies, household products, clothing , all product that was not essential but enabled a slightly better environment when you were confined to your own four walls.

So if we can make the case that all online operations are not all bad then I think it is only fair to look at the case as to why they should not get quite the bad press most of the media seems to give them .

Whilst these 2 Charts are from different sources and slightly different years , it helps to illustrate the way retail is moving

There are broadly 3 types of B2C operators

Those who sell on the market places eg Amazon, eBay & Etsy etc

Those that operate their own Web shops

The Third being those who operate on both

Let’s examine the the second ie those who trade via their own web shops.

Before doing that it is important to make thing clear about online operators , for the most part they do not operate on the High Street therefore their rent and rates will tend to be lower than a Bricks and mortar equivalent per square metre. There ends in my view their main economic cost benefit .

Basic Higher Costs for Web shop operators Vs Bricks and Mortar

1.Unit size tends to be much larger than equivalent bricks and mortar
2.Stock holding is likely to be much higher
3.Technology both hard and soft high cost of entry due to much greater demands on the systems
4.Greater number of SKUs-Independent brick and mortar (in Party) maybe 6000+ ,web shop more like 30,000+
5.Can take up to 30 minutes to load one new product onto a web shop (that is similar for the market places, if not more so)
6.Very high cost of marketing or web awareness. It would be no exaggeration to say this can be in 6 figures
7. High cost to maintain awareness
8. Cost to deliver (no cost to Bricks and mortar). Current major issue is a problem concerning shortages of drivers
9. High cost to maintaining customer loyalty (Since there is no face-to-face interaction like in a retail store, the development of trust and loyalty takes more time and effort in eCommerce)
10. Cost of returns (Over 60% of online shoppers look at a shop’s return policy before making a purchase.)
11. Cost to pick and pack
12. Increasing IT requirements such as data analysts

These are just some of the cost issues. Other barriers facing B2C e commerce platforms are (all involve cost at some point)

Online identity verification
Overall cyber security
Shopping Cart Abandonment (apparently this can amount to anything between 60-80% )

Many of these issues can be offset by using the market places such as Amazon & eBay. Yet these have their own pitfalls in terms of there is, of course a cost, pricing is very aggressive, you can be competing against a far bigger supply chain, and you are reliant upon the whims the platform you are using and subject to their rules.

Here’s a fascinating little fact

It takes about 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they like your site or not, whether they’ll stay or leave.

sweor.com


and another …….

47% of Users expect a maximum of 2 seconds loading time for an average website

sweor.com

yet another ….

Users spend an average of 5.59 seconds looking at a website’s written content

sweor.com

Take the sum of these 3 stats and you are not looking 8 seconds in total. It takes that long to walk into a shop before you have begun to get an impression of what is on offer. That said there are some retailers where I have made a very precise decision not to enter in a fraction of that time , which will say loads about those particular shops.

The following diagram may also illustrate how being an online seller is not that straight forward. Show me a bricks and mortar retailer that is faced with any of these dilemmas.

Governments have talked much about taxing the ‘ so called‘ advantages of the online operators . There maybe an argument for the likes of Amazon, but for the rest it is taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut. There has never been an argument for additional taxation for the supermarkets .  Tesco & Sainsburys alone take over 42% of the market. Who had it before they existed (as supermarkets) ? The independent retailer . It is how retail evolves. The market place has to adapt as it always has. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

No Retailing is easy. It never has been, and it wont get any easier. It has to evolve to survive. There will always be the ‘naysayers’. Online is here to stay and so are good bricks and mortar retailers , we started with Bowie so I’ll finish with Ike & Tina Turner

Working together we can make a change

Working together we can help better things

Ike & Tina Turner 1970

Bit of a shame Ike didn’t think more about some of the words he sung , but that does not detract from the essence .

The Future Consumer ….

The current UK government will have redesigned the future consumer as a very svelte like creature arriving at our gleaming, but empty, shopping centres in vast swarms of cycling health freaks. Some would have arrived in electric cars but they had not managed to build any charging points. This scenario having evolved from their policies on reducing obesity. Naturally, the whole concept will be inspired by ministerial cars being replaced by high performance racing bikes, or maybe E Bikes.

Reality is a little more complex. Most businesses (involved in selling products to consumers) spend a great deal of time looking at what the retail landscape will look like, what the future trends are, the economic future , spending habits and ways to market. Yet do they actually look at what the consumer will look like (metaphorically speaking) ?

It came as a bit of a surprise when looking for research there is not much going in . Or rather there is , and always has been, a lot on consumer behaviour but not on the holistic consumer. By this I mean, the whole package . That’s is to say behaviour, social interaction, physicality of the individual, thinking process, social awareness , family sizes, cultural approaches , education, spending power, in effect everything goes to make the everyday consumer. Yes there is plenty of research in each and everyone one of these components and I know most major retailers have some form of futurologist within the organisation. However, there seems to be little which really looks at the complete person, In so far as there ever can be such a creature.

Hence I was somewhat, initially pleased, but ultimately disappointed when I recently, read a report by an Organisation called Raconteur.net publishing a report called The Future Consumer. It spoke at length about the future consumer but much of this was based upon the effects of Covid. I would not hesitate to accept that Covid will have had an impact on the Consumer, I am not convinced it is the comprehensive Shape Shifter it is being described as. Yes, it will have moved a additional sector of society into shopping online. Yes, it will have made an impact on the way we work (though once again I am not thinking this will be as long lasting as suggested. See what happens to those working from home during a miserable winter. It focuses on and suggests fairly nebulous plans about connecting to the consumer.

Craig Inglis ,Chair of the Marketing Society Raconteur..the Future Consume. September 2020

There are other influences that go beyond Covid that are just as powerful in shaping the future consumer, Environment, climate, technology, education and wealth to list just a few. Covid has, to a degree, brought forward the timeline. There is no doubt that a section of society that were new to online purchasing during lockdown will remain online. But not all and furthermore they will not buy everything online. Those starved of the retail experience, apart from queuing outside supermarkets, suddenly missed the ability to go to shop.

I am not convinced that the issue of working from from home or rather the desire to work from home is quite as strong as all the pundits claim. Yes, there will be a change but not as big as big as people think(see previous paragraph). Climate and environment is in a very confused state as the consumer edged back to using cars as public transport was deemed unsafe.

Wealth, health and education all being linked. In that those who have a good education, tend to be wealthier and healthier. The sum effect does throw up some light for good independents, in the more affluent areas of society. The consumer has become aware of its good local independents . They have got (or at least some of them) have got used to walking to them and seeing their offer and being surprised (positively mainly , I think) . The combination, perhaps of working more from home, and in walking distance provides opportunities for the good local independent to connect to this ‘new consumer’ and build relationships that will help their business to flourish long in to the future. The less fortunate, invariably have a poorer choice of independent, if there is any choice at all. So no change there then, the less fortunate become even less fortunate.

So many retailers, amongst those some of our biggest have managed to get their predictions of the Future Consumer so wrong. M&S has got to be at the forefront , their decline started way back , probably at least fifteen years. You just need to look at their approach to online, having only just got their food offering up and running , then only a small part of it and then only through a third party (Ocado). Even the big supermarkets grossly misunderstood their customers potential behaviour when the European discounters first came to our shores (Aldi, Lidl). Consequently they are all only playing catch up.

Hands up, this is not an easy game, predicting the future consumer . You could say that there have been few that get it right. Like it or not Amazon is perhaps the one that stands out. Twenty three years ago, Jeff Bezos (technology achievements aside) seemed to know what the consumer would buy into, in the future. But then I am not sure it is rocket science (or even technological science) convenience, consumer confidence, value pricing and above all the consumer experience, are surely precursors to those who wants to retail. There are those who argue, quite rightly, that he (Bezos)does not care about much else, but we are talking about consumer perspective and here he wins hands down.

IKEA is perhaps another. When they first expanded there was plenty of flat pack furniture around but not in the way that IKEA envisaged it. Nor in the environment they created . ‘The plenty’ no longer exist . IKEA enabled the consumer to visualise a new environment and consequently helped in developing a new consumer . The same perhaps could be said about Terence Conran(in the UK) in the sixties and seventies. Not that he sold flat pack furniture but he saw how the furniture consumer was changing . Unfortunately, when he sold the company, the new company did not continue with that vision. But Conran cannot be considered a global shape shifter moreover his influence was on a relatively small sector of the market. I suspect there are few consumers, in the developed world who do not know of Amazon or IKEA. There are, of course, other future proofing brands available. Those non future proofing may not be around for as long as they think.

Whilst gently lambasting Raconteurs research , I did feel the diagram below was helpful in illustrating some of the effects of Covid on the existing consumer and data such as this, needs to be considered when looking for the future consumer

Raconteur..the Future Consume. September 2020

There are no options. Or rather there are two. You do nothing or you at least take the opportunity, especially in the current climate, to look around at the changes you can see happen in front of you and take a view on what may happen. Back to no options. If you do nothing , nothing will happen or rather , as sure as eggs is eggs, things won’t improve there is a very good chance they will only deteriorate. If you look around , make some guided assumptions and act accordingly, you have an opportunity, if not to get ahead of the game at least keep up with it.

Consumers, by definition, include us all

John F Kennedy

That being a truism, we all change, develop and evolve . As we are all consumers the same principle applies . If we wish to sell stuff to ourselves we need to have some idea how we change and develop. If as a retailer you don’t someone else will .

Now, more than ever, retailers have got to look long and hard and what tomorrow’s consumer is like. For those that don’t it will not be difficult to predict their future, however short lived that maybe.