This year has already proven to be one of fundamental change. As the UK now embarks on the journey to leave the European Union, and as new opportunities – and challenges – open up for retailers of all sizes, what new horizons are now coming into sight? Where should multichannel businesses now focus their attentions as they plan for a more uncertain future?
The smartphone is now coming of age in the UK market, where it’s proving the prime, if not the only, driver of retail sales growth. In June 2016, according to IMRG figures, smartphone sales rose by 69% compared to the previous year. That contributed to 17% growth in overall online sales. Individual retailers are seeing dramatic results for mobile: Debenhams reported in June that more than 50% of its ecommerce orders came via the channel in its third quarter, while m-commerce sales accounted for 28% of Argos sales in its latest financial year. To reach this point Argos, an Elite retailer in IRUK Top500 research, focused on making mobile an effective bridge between its stores and online, offering stock checks through its app, and enabling convenient ordering and collection on the go. In future, individual retailers will be considering how mobile can best work for their businesses.
From eBay to Amazon, marketplaces are fast becoming a first port of call for many shoppers. Retailers are following them onto the third-party platforms: for many they’re an important point of contact with potential shoppers beyond those loyal customers who already visit their websites. Marketplaces are especially important for brands and retailers alike as they move into new markets. Waitrose, a Leading retailer in IRUK Top500 research, is now selling via the Royal Mail’s Tmall shop as it targets Chinese shoppers, and Gap is selling on Zalando as it looks to gain new kinds of access to European markets via a gateway that’s trusted by local consumers. Traders developing strategies around marketplaces will be asking questions about how they best make these sites work for them. How, for example, do they fit into their international strategies? How should they adapt their merchandising and data collection as they look to make the most not only of the new customers that marketplaces bring them but of the information they can gain about this new market and how customers see its brand?
Marketplaces may be a useful part of engaging with shoppers in new markets, but they’re likely only a part of the strategy. Many UK retailers appear to have seen a bounce in traffic, and sales, when the value of sterling fell following the decision to leave the European Union. IRUK Top250 retailer Gear4Music saw its European sales grow by 73%, compared to the previous year, in the week immediately following the June 24 referendum result. Now traders will be looking to make the most of this short-term currency strength. But they’ll also be planning new ways to access international markets across the world, while waiting with interest to see the detail of future trading arrangements with Europe.
The Internet Retailing Conference 2016 takes New Horizons as its theme. Speakers at this year’s event, to be held at the Novotel, Hammersmith, on October 12, will look at how they, and other retailers, are now planning strategies around mobile, marketplaces and international retailing.