Why are some high-street retailers so resistant to e-commerce? - Fabric Digital

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Why are some high-street retailers so resistant to e-commerce?

2nd Sep // 2015

In a world dominated by internet-first retailers such as Asos and ao.com, it's odd to think that some giant high-street names don't really exist in a money making way online. Not On The High Street could do with expanding to create Not On The Internet.

For example, Poundland have only just released an e-commerce offering, and even that is on a trial basis.

The discount retailer broke the £1bn sales barrier in 2015, and is also in the latter stages of snapping up 99p Stores for a reported £55m after being given the go-ahead from the Competition and Markets Authority.

The highly successful bricks and mortar company was largely pushed in the direction of e-commerce due to growing concerns surrounding its slowing growth, poor digital presence and the fact it's well recognised brand in town centres was missing out on a potentially huge market online.

The site itself actually works extremely well, with over 2,000 products offered at £1 and £1 only. It also includes bulk buy offers to tempt cash and carry shoppers.

Poundland have also included a special offer scratchcard where winners can benefit from free delivery, and delivery charges are very simple – a flat rate of £4 that negates the logistical issues that come with offering next-day and arranged time deliveries as well.

All in all, it feels very well thought out and it's e-commerce in its simplest form – but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It works, and in this case, it somewhat reflects the simple values of the brand itself.

The only real criticism I can find of the whole operation lies in the related press release to coincide with the digital shops' launch, namely in Chief Executive Jim McCarthy's suggestion that Poundland has a number of ways now in which they can provide 'customers with magic moments when they find amazing value products'. A tad over-dramatic perhaps.

What about the other big brands?

Most of the big brands that were late to the e-commerce world, including the likes of Zara, Jigsaw, Clarks, Habitat and Morrisons, do now have strong online shopping portals.

But the biggest high street brand that comes to mind that is still to ply its trade online is the one and only Primark. Serving 1.4 million shoppers a day across their 285 worldwide stores, the chain is seemingly in a perfect position to shift its offering online, but it is yet to do so.

Their current website is an odd arrangement of signature ranges from hired celebrities and users can favourite the products they like the look of. The checkout is replaced with a list of the nearest stores. Anyone who regularly frequents a Primark store on payday however knows that it's very much pot luck in terms of what stock is available and in what sizes when you actually do pop in.

Perhaps this is one of the major reasons why Primark has refrained from online as it can't guarantee stock and offer country-wide coverage.

The other issue is that the world of online fashion is very much a premium space. Brands fight it out with each other to appear the most edgy, the most modern, the most premium and the most desired in order to drive sales and enhance their brand image. These are traits that the well known bargain basement of clothing stores would struggle to implement online.

But that in itself may be a giant opportunity that a ready-made global brand like Primark could easily move into – THE discount online fashion retailer, and be loud and proud about it.

You have to think that if other niche sectors can solve the issue of logistics in terms of stock and delivery then they have a real opportunity to cash in on the giant online marketplace. One that comes to mind are charities such as Cancer Research and Age Concern. Their shops survive and even thrive on even the most ghostly of depleting high-streets, yet they're yet to seriously tap into e-commerce.

How difficult would it be to compile the best donated stock into regional warehouses and organise a delivery contract with DPD et al?

oxfam originals

This is a model that Oxfam has worked well with its Oxfam Originals brand, which does sell and send the best of its products – typically vintage or well known brands, and they work it extremely well with social accounts to support the Etsy style store.

However, you wonder why other charities haven't followed Oxfam's example by modernising its offering and realising that, especially with the current desire for thrifty vintage clothing, it's not just pensioners that want their stock.

So perhaps retailers need to look at the example Poundland have set and just keep things (on the surface anyway) as simple as possible. Same prices. Same mantra. Just add the cost of postage to the final order and watch the bank balance swell.

Penned by Arthur Wilson in Digital Marketing