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Taking the High Street online and social

Wednesday February 29 2012

Social commerce expert Anton Gething discusses the impact of online retailing in the fortunes of the offline world that is the UK High Street

Social commerce expert Anton Gething discusses the impact of online retailing in the fortunes of the offline world that is the UK High Street

 

The High Street is a long established, well-defined ecosystem, encompassing the brick and mortar stores we understand to be the traditional retail model, according to Anton Gething, co-founder and product director at nToklo. Many people think of the High Street as the way to shop, influencing where, when, and what they buy. For many shoppers it is still a Saturday destination, with food courts and other services making it easy to spend more time and money there.

 

“For merchants themselves, the brick and mortar model provides a known set of business processes and arena for brand engagement,” he said. “However, online retail (including mobile commerce on smartphones and tablets) has brought a game-changing dimension to this well established ecosystem, with older generations embracing e-commerce and younger ones growing up to live by it.” For the High Street to survive Gething said it must embrace these new channels in order to successfully engage with more consumers wherever and whenever they are on their purchase journey.

 

Finding the right multichannel strategy

 

Gething stressed that it is important to remember that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but offered RetailTechnology.co.uk readers some broad guidelines that should be understood by businesses include:

 

Developing your online experience: managing the transition to this multichannel environment will vary greatly from business to business, and there’s no prescriptive element to how a traditional shop should go online. Although it’s clear that all shops must go online to some extent, how they do this will vary. This is particularly true when considering factors like merchandise being sold, whether these are high or low-frequency sale items, and how the retailer wishes to engage with their customers. Every business, irrespective of size, needs to look at where online can bring most value to their traditional business.

 

Merging the online and physical experience: perhaps counter-intuitively, it’s important that merchants don’t entirely abandon the High Street model. It’s important to remember that the tactile elements of brick and mortar shopping are largely what made it so successful. As people, we are driven by our senses and how we physically interact with the world. When it comes to shopping, the ability to interact with goods before making a purchasing decision is – and always will be - important.

 

When bringing the two worlds together, it’s vital that retailers provide an online experience that doesn’t just sit adjacent to their traditional business. Rather, it must represent a corollary experience to their brand so that users identify with the traditional and online channels as a single entity – a unified brand experience. Many companies have put online teams in place to work alongside their traditional teams. Instead, retailers must look to align their off- and online teams from the outset to develop a unified sales and engagement strategy.

 

Managing online social development

 

Being more social: social provides a good example of how this works in practice. Rather than being a bolt-on to existing engagement strategies, it should be a thread that runs through the entire retail process, covering all channels. It’s not just about users and peers, but an evolution of online that allows brands to be social, providing the features that allow users to engage with the brand and each other. This could include consumer advice, improved delivery, letting customers know when items are in store, and personalised gift recommendations that are timed to your Facebook friends, for example. Social can bring a more personalised experience to any number of existing sales and marketing channels, offering the consumer a deeper, more engaged, and ultimately more social experience with the retailer, while also allowing the business to be more social as a brand.

 

“For the modern business looking to adapt to the online world, a good start would be for retailers to ensure an integrated service. All channels should work together as a unified proposition, joined with back office functions to improve customer delivery,” Gething concluded. “We’re standing on the threshold of a completely new shopping experience, and those brands that can bring together all the elements of online, social, and logistics will stand to reap great rewards.”