Napoleon famously didn’t see the British as a threat because, in his words, we are “nation of shopkeepers.” And it’s safe to say that we do love shopping.
So why are big brands like Toys-R-Us, Maplin, BHS, and New Look being forced to close stores?
The media seems to consistently blame one major culprit: Millennials. However, millennials are not to blame for the fall of these big retail brands. And here’s how I know.
Millennials shop in actual stores
Millennials prefer real life stores! I thought the opposite when I started my research for this piece but it’s true! Crazy right?
Not when you think about.
Millennials grew up with Amazon, Facebook, and Instagram, so they have had ample opportunity to shop online. But as we can see from the Forbes study cited above, their behaviour is not much different from that of other, older consumers.
It seems millennials like the way stores allow us to try before we buy, pick up a bargain, browse similar items, or, scarily enough, just buy something outright!
Figure 1: Struggling UK retailers vs Amazon.co.uk
Why the high street is getting quiet
Only 3 of the top 20 retailers in the UK are not bricks and mortar stores and (if you don’t include Amazon), the other two store-less retailers don’t appear until the teens.
So why are big high street brands disappearing?
Amazon is one of the key reasons that physical shops are on the decline (see figure 1).
Between 2010 and 2017, Amazon’s sales increased from £11.3bn to £56bn. Half of all US households are now on Amazon Prime, and Amazon’s UK sales smashed the £6 billion mark last year!
But in truth, there’s more to the story than just Amazon’s dynasty.
Online shopping is extremely convenient for consumers, and traditional retailers can’t keep up. One thing in the economy rings true: to succeed in business, you must adapt – or you die! Sadly, it seems many companies are not willing to adapt (See Figure 2).
Figure 2. Graph showing the visibility of the UK’s top 4 retailers
Why does online have the edge on store fronts?
Whether we’re shopping for cupcakes, flowers, or a honeymoon in Greece, the Internet has changed how we decide what to buy. There are many factors at play that have made online shopping a more favourable route for consumers:
- Location, location, location? Not for ecommerce
Shops usually do the bulk of their business in the area the store is located, but this isn’t the case with e-commerce. Customers from one corner of the world can easily order almost anything from anywhere with the few clicks, making it easy and convenient to shop from your screen.
- Gain new customers with SEO
Stores rely on traditional advertising, branding, and repeat visits to build a customer base. While online stores also rely on these aspects, a huge amount of their traffic comes from search engines.
While it doesn’t look good for business if you’re standing outside your store trying to herd people in, that’s pretty much what Google does for e-commerce. Consumers start by Googling what they want and, based on how high up in the SERPs it is, clicking on a site that they might eventually make a purchase form.
In most cases, running an e-commerce website is cheaper than operating a physical store, and these savings can be (and are often are) passed on to customers. An e-commerce site doesn’t need instore staff, it doesn’t need to own and manage a physical store front, and marketing is mainly dependant on SEO, pay-per-click, and social media traffic which is cheaper than the traditional advertising that physical stores often also have to invest in.
There’s a limit to how much merchandise you can display in store and how much information employees can retain for customers enquires. But there’s virtually no limit to what e-commerce websites can stock and say about their products! An online platform allows for endless possibilities in terms of what (and how) products are sold.
Using customer’s data, e-commerce sites can access a lot of information and use it to connect with customers. For example, if you are searching for something on Amazon, you will see listings of similar products and they’ll also email you to keep you updated on the latest products that you may like.
It’s great, but it’s not perfect: The challenges of e-commerce
If done right, e-commerce will help your business to grow. But if you mess it up, it can have a negative effect. These are the top 3 mistakes companies make on their e-commerce websites:
- Low quality content
When Google released the Panda algorithm, quality content became a top priority for any site. This is easy to fix – for example, product pages need to be more than pages with a photo and blurbs about a product.
Amazon, for example, features customer product reviews, photos, and videos. You also can’t just use the same, generic descriptions provided by the manufacturer. To increase your SEO rankings, you need to have custom product descriptions – Vue do this extremely well. (Yes, this is one of our case studies, but can you think of a better example?!).
- Poor technical SEO
I have clients coming to me all the time saying “Dan, we need you to build links.” “Dan, we need content.” “Dan, we need PPC.”
First question: Do you clean up your house before inviting people over… Of course you do! So why don’t you make sure your site is in a fit state before you start outreaching with digital marketing?
If you don’t get your technical SEO right, none of your hard work will index and you’ve just flushed away all that budget spent on outreach. Make some nice clean URLs, add detailed breadcrumbs, make the journey from viewing to purchasing as simple and as straightforward as possible, speed up your page loading times, and, for the love of Rick, make sure you’re on HTTPS!
- No links + No trust = No customers
Now this is hard, but it’s 100% worth your investment. Whether it’s through content, influencer marketing, discount sites, or review sites, you need links. Why? Because links increase site traffic, give your site legitimacy, and provide a great place for your customers to access content that they can’t find anywhere else!
Marrying e-commerce and the high street
In short, high street stores are dying off because people have no reason to go to them. How do you fix this? Give people a reason to go!
We can’t dictate the way the world works, and the world wants e-commerce. However, you can focus on transforming your in-store experience so that it’s worth the journey.
Make your store more engaging, and you’ll increase footfall and sales. Inject digital into the physical shopping experience, and you’re on your way to getting ahead of the curve – check it out at Adobe Summit 2016 for inspiration.
Apple is one brand that has a famously popular in-store experience – here’s why:
- It brings the digital world into its stores
Apple knows that most of the world is online and most of that population shop online. By having features such as the ability make Genius Bar appointments online, Apple is blending the in-store experience with digital capabilities.
- It offers a seamless customer experience
Whether you’re shopping online or in store, you know what an Apple product looks like, and Apple stores look like Apple products! It is so good at branding, their storefronts don’t even need a logo.
- It knows that knowledge is power
You can’t buy an Apple product from an Apple Store while uninformed (believe me, I’ve tried). You basically have no choice but to try out products in store, and you benefit from the human element as the store specialists are armed with iPads and computers everywhere you turn. Apple makes sure you know how good the product you’re buying is!
To conclude: Don’t shy away from digital
It’s not just Apple who have adapted to the modern consumer – other brands are taking notice. At Yext’s Explorer conference, Jaguar Land Rover said it is using Land Rover experience days to sell Land Rovers, and that each Jaguar showroom is going to have a classic car for its customers to see and feel. Argos, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco are finally starting to think about in store experience as well!
If there’s one key takeaway from this post, it’s don’t treat digital commerce as an enemy – treat it as a support structure that helps you drive sales on all channels.