With the growing popularity and proliferation of the internet, there is an increasing perception that online shopping is the key to success in retail. Retailers such as ASOS and The Iconic have achieved mainstream success, and have often been targeted by retailers as the reason why they are losing both sales and relevance.
An online store, from the surface can seem like a simpler, more cost effective way to run a retail operation. Visual merchandise, hiring competent customer service staff, securing the right location and gaining customers can often seem like an afterthought when running an online store but are often still necessities in the online space.
Running an online store does not guarantee success, particularly when there is a single channel and tactics based approach to marketing. It is worth noting that ASOS and The Iconic invest in offline communications, including PR and outdoor advertising.
Running an online store has its own challenges. While some operational costs can be minimised, running an online store attracts its own costs across the supply chain, including warehousing, distribution and freight charges. An online store also faces the issue of attracting the right target audiences to its store and enticing them to commit to a final purchase. This is critical given how easy it is for an online consumer to compare prices of the same product across a variety of channels, including bricks and mortar stores.
Furthermore, pricing is not always a key incentive, given that some bricks and mortar retailers, actually charge more for some of their products when purchased online.
The reality is an online store is one component of the marketing mix and should not be viewed in isolation. This is why retailers such as Coles and David Jones are encouraging their customers to return to their bricks and mortar stores to pick up their online orders through a “click and collect” system. A bricks and mortar store provides the ability to engage the five senses, and for the customer to develop brand loyalty that goes beyond price comparisons.
Engaging a customer across the marketing mix means that a business has the ability to establish its point of difference, and develop ongoing relationships with its customers. Digital should be viewed as a tool that assists in this success rather than the ultimate solution. Digital needs to reinforce the overall customer experience rather than be considered the only channel to market. Virtual shopping assistants, online communities and digital activations can help bridge the gap between the bricks and mortar presence and online store.
Successful retailers understand the role of place and distribution in the marketing mix, as well as the need to engage customers throughout the journey. A single channel approach, whether physical or online, is destined to fail.