In recent years the retail industry–and small retailers in particular–have come to see the internet as something of a threat to their livelihoods. Industry experts have blamed high profile businesses (such as Amazon or Nordstrom) for the rise in popularity of online shopping, claiming that consumers now have no need to visit physical retail shops. In fact, the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) in the U.K. has forecast that one in five High Street shops will close by 2018.

Yet while the internet is something of a competitor for the traditional retail platform, simply logging on from home is by no means the only way consumers shop in this day and age–comparing prices via smartphone, and even checking stock via a portable device are common options available to consumers which by no means push out the commercial property aspect of a retail business. By integrating into—rather than ignoring—the online marketplace, small retailers can gain access to a much wider pool of consumers and revitalise their businesses to a degree that has been never achievable before.

But how to do it?

Use Social Media And Special Offers

Social networking is an invaluable tool for retailers nowadays. Beyond creating a Facebook page and a Twitter feed for your regular customers to connect with, the option to “promote” posts in order to reach a wider target audience now exists, with the added benefit of being much cheaper than a traditional radio or newspaper campaign. However, simply marketing via social media is no longer cutting-edge enough to attract large numbers of consumers.

According to Petra Jung, the head of mobile shopping at eBay, stores need to expand their technological base to encompass utilities such as apps and interactive platforms to truly turn heads. She points out that if a small retailer chooses to take the plunge, the rewards can be huge and the vast number of options made available by the internet means each initiative can be completely unique.

Jung says: “Online fashion retailer ASOS has previously had success by previewing their summer sale through a Facebook application. The application allowed fans to play a series of games that meant players with the most points went to the front of the virtual queue and could access the sale first.

“Our research predicts that UK retail sales directly via social media are forecast to grow to £290 million by 2014 from £210 million (a rise of 44 percent) as more and more retailers target consumers with personalised offers and deals on social networks.”

A social media initiative of the type used by ASOS could be particularly useful for a small trade-in games firm, for example, while an independent boutique may prefer a “review offer”, in which a consumer writes a review for your website or social network page in return for a voucher or small item. Either way, the possibilities offered by social networking are endless!

Make It An Omnichannel Shopping Experience

Not all small retailers have the technological abilities to create an app, nor the time to maintain a multitude of social networking sites. However, combining the commercial property side of a company with the digital platform is fairly easy and can even make day-to-day business much more streamlined.

Take Argos, for example. The famous catalogue brand was circling the drain, yet thanks to a significant restructuring program and a revamp of its digital presence, Argos has recently managed to post its first real profit in five years. Much of this success has been put down to the “click and collect” service, whereby customers place their orders online and pick up their items in the nearest High Street store. As well as saving on delivery costs, this method boosts the footfall of physical properties, thus providing a positive statistic in the annual report!

Of course, internet retailing certainly has several advantages over traditional brick-and-mortar shopkeeping. Internet sites can afford to expand far more rapidly than a traditional shopping chain ever could, and internet retailers have no need to worry about customers making a claim against them after becoming injured on their premises as quite frankly, they have no public access premises! However, with disadvantages including a lack of personal connection with consumers, no guarantee of brand loyalty and a virtually unlimited pool of rivals, online shopping has problems of its own to deal with.

Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren has firmly agreed that so-called “omnichannel” shopping should be embraced by retailers, so perhaps by adapting to changes whilst keeping the core business true to itself, small retailers can reap huge benefits from utilising one of the key technological features of our time.
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