In this post, I’ll look at Christmas e-tailing and the likely trends over the next 12 months.

Retailers must look towards implementing digital strategies into their traditional bricks and mortar approach if they want to capitlise on the potential growth opportunities online and mobile can provide. 

Retailers across the UK have just come through one of their most challenging Christmas periods ever. 

With the growing cost of living deflating the public purse, increased customer choice reducing loyalty and high street footfall declining across the UK, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Christmas spirit had been cancelled for Britain’s shopkeepers.

On the face of it there is little to cheer about in the New Year with 2013 already claiming its first scalps. Camera retailer Jessops, HMV and Blockbusters have all gone into administration this month. 

But despite the doom and gloom the BRC report shows that sales did in fact increase over the festive period. The Christmas results were boosted by a huge increase in online retailing, which grew by almost 18%.  

Price conscious consumers are still spending but differently. In 2012, expenditure was more fragmented than ever before. It was divided between the high street, desktop shopping, mobile, tablets and social media platforms, as shoppers look to grab the best deals.

In the few weeks after the 2011 Christmas peak we saw many well-known retailers stumble onto the administration auction block. Many more, this year, will be scanning their 2012 Christmas sales with trepidation.

Deloitte reported that retail bankruptcy increased by 6% in 2012, with more scalps anticipated in Q1 of 2013.[1]

With the economic situation unchanged many of those who skated above the red last year will be forced to look again. For many the focus will fall on the importance of digital and the integration of online with traditional bricks and mortar approaches. 

The 2012 peak period will have determined the health of many of our high street staples and will have been a true test of the multichannel, omni-channel and digital strategies that they have put in place. However, for many there is still ground left to cover if they want to be able to capitalise on the growth opportunities that online and mobile can provide.

Embrace showrooming

Many bricks and mortar retailers dread the influx of mobile phones into their stores. They see ‘showrooming’ as the worst ailment to hit the high street since Amazon.

Some retailers have even attempted to prevent internet access in-store to avoid the inevitable mobile price comparisons. However, in my opinion retailers should embrace the opportunities that showrooming presents. It allows them to carry less stock and maximise their real estate.

A bricks and mortar presence is invaluable in terms of the brand awareness and the customer experience it can offer, although the cost of maintaining a physical presence on the high street can be high.

More than ever, retailers want to optimise their stock count to ensure that valuable real estate is used to best effect: by displaying products as opposed to storing them. 

This might well reduce the range of sizes and alternative colours a store can carry, but a well-organised supply chain and use of digital technology can allow orders to be placed whilst the customer is in the store.

By arming assistants with tablets, alternative products can be ordered to the store on behalf of the customer. By using an internal ecommerce account, retailers can avoid undermining store managers’ sales targets whilst allowing them to maximise the profitability of the space they have. 

Rectify the returns

Retailers experience around 50% return rates from online stores, and after Christmas this can spike as people offload unwanted gifts. Detailed and exact representation of products online is key to reducing the return rate and ensuring sales stay sold.

Providing the most comprehensive product information and imagery possible is essential.

Zoom, rotate, videos and high quality images are all vital as they show a shopper exactly what the product is like. These need to be offered without extending load times as this will impede a customer’s experience.

Slow load times have been found to reduce consumer trust in a site and cause significant drop off from potential sales. By using a highly scalable platform, retailers can support high-quality interactive merchandising alongside a highly responsive transactional site.

This reduces drop off without sacrificing quality and reduces product return rates without sacrificing speed.

A simple, easy returns process is a customer touch point that helps build trust and loyalty. Customers are far more likely to discuss and recommend a retailer that resolves issues quickly above one that simply fulfils an order.

We’re yet to see which retailers flounder after the peak period this year, but the fragmentation we’re seeing may well be a major reason why several retailers’ fail.

Digital will become increasingly prevalent in many strategies for 2013 as retailers adapt to the changing world of consumption. With modern consumers hopping across multiple channels when moving from browse to buy, integration of digital channels allows retailers just a touch of omniscience.