The Challenges of Moving High Street Retail Online

Yana Milcheva
May 24, 2021
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Yana Milcheva

Remember when shopping for jeans or a new pair of shoes required people to get all dressed up and spend a Saturday browsing through every shop on the high street? With the growing ubiquity of online shopping and omni-channel purchasing experiences, this is becoming less of the norm.

While, once, having a well-presented store front was enough to attract customers, high street retailers today are quickly realising that they need to embrace digital innovation to remain competitive against the online-first businesses.
In 2018, 1 in every 5 pounds spent in UK shops has been spent online, with online sales experiencing a 38% increase in the first half of that year alone.

Adopting an offline-online hybrid model enables businesses to connect with the technology-savvy, omni-channel customer. Today, we are going to look over the challenges high street retailers face when it comes to transitioning their business online without compromising on the quality of their services.

1. Delivering the same quality of personalised service

Customers’ expectation of instant gratification has prompted businesses to focus on price and providing convenient transactions. While being able to finalise a purchase quickly is important for consumers, iAdvize’s research has revealed that 8 out of 10 shoppers value personalised shopping experiences more.

Providing good customer service has been relatively straightforward on the high street, where customers can engage with sales staff on an informal, more personal level. However, it can be challenging to bring the same level of personalisation online, where it is hard to replicate the feeling of a face-to-face customer interaction.

According to Laura Franklin, Bravissimo's Customer Services Manager, satisfactory customer service is not only a priority, but a key differentiating factor for their business:

We want for every customer that comes in contact with us, whether that would be in the store, over the phone or via live chat, to go away feeling great about themselves…This is fairly easy to do in-store and over the phone. Online, it’s quite difficult – your website has to be really functional and represent what your brand is all about, especially to customers who haven’t had an in-store experience".

In order to continue providing satisfactory customer service online, the retailer has successfully adopted a human-centric approach to web communication:

With Talkative’s live web chat solution, customers can engage with the online consultants, ask questions and get instant answers, get product and fitting advice. While still being digital, live chat allows for our agents to establish a personal, more human connection with the customers".

When transitioning to an online business model, high street retailers need to stay true to their commitment of providing personalised customer service. If, as in Bravissimo’s case, your brand is built on offering bespoke customer experiences, you can’t afford to miss out on any opportunity for online customer engagement.

VIDEO: 5 Ways To Tell If You Need Live Web Chat

2. Rethinking your existing business model

Establishing an online presence requires retailers to re-evaluate their entire business model, for it to be functional in the digital era. High street brands have had to rethink their supply chain and improve the efficiency of their warehouses, to accommodate customers’ need for prompt, seamless product delivery. This comes along with modifying the process of hiring and training online support agents, whose interactions with customers differ from the traditional face-to-face communication.

Apart from reforming their supply chain, high street retailers need to devise an effective omnichannel customer engagement strategy. Adopting a platform approach to customer engagement and offering a consistent brand experience across different channels and devices is essential for retailers’ online growth.

Whether setting up an online store as an extension to brick-and-mortar, or shifting a business’ entire operations online, high street retailers need to carefully consider their place within the supply chain and the amount of resources that they can afford to invest in digital innovation. A successful business is one that offers its customers multiple opportunities for interaction- the right solution for digital communication can make all the difference for businesses struggling to establish a profitable growth path online.

3. Understanding who the online consumer is

Surviving in a highly saturated eCommerce environment sis all about adaptability- not just to the innovations within digital communication, but to the changing behaviors of the omni-channel customer. When building a strong online presence, it is essential to have a good understanding of who the online customer is and what their expectations of the services you provide are.

Online is the preferred environment for the millennial consumers, who are now comprising the majority of retailers’ targeted demographic. According to Steve Blitz, chief economist at TS Lombard, “millennials are the first generation in which internet shopping is ingrained in their DNA”.

Appealing to this category of well-informed, technology-savvy customers requires for the improvement of both the quality and presentation of the online products. As customers’ purchasing behaviors become more complex, so do online retailers’ techniques for ensuring a quality customer experience.

Adopting proactive methods for customer communication can help high street retailers in their transition to a digital business model. Identifying the most frequently asked questions, storing and analyzing data on shopping cart abandonment rates and offering support at every stage of the browsing journey will help you understand how online customers’ decision-making process works. By getting to know more about the person behind the virtual shopping cart, retailers can reduce the risk of losing valuable customers during their transition from brick-and-mortar to digital.

4. Merging the online and offline shopping experiences

Despite the growing ubiquity of online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores are still an essential part of customers’ buying journey. For customers, it has become the norm to start a transaction on one channel and complete it on another. In fact, RetailDive’s report reveals that millennial customers are extremely channel-agnostic, switching between buying online (52%) and in-store (59%).

40% of retail executives state that their biggest challenge when optimising business information lays within improving the cross-channel customer experience. However, if executed correctly, integrating online buying experiences with the physical elements of retail can be a winning strategy for high street brands. Offering physical returns for online purchases and promoting digital-only products in-store allows retailers to provide a unified shopping experience. Moreover, it enables them to target both the Gen X customer, who still shops predominantly in-store, as well as the younger, Gen Z generation, which is more reliant on the Internet to make purchases.

5. Staying true to your core values

Differentiating your business within a highly saturated eCommerce environment can be challenging, even for well-established high street retailers. Entering the realm of digital retail means competing against online-only enterprises, many of which have had years to develop successful business strategies and leverage the power of social media to improve the customer engagement.

It can be challenging to balance between the emerging digital trends, while preserving a consistent brand image across both online and offline platforms. Being able to communicate your brand’s core values is extremely important in an industry as saturated as the eCommerce. With solutions such as live web chat, cobrowsing or web voice and video calling, retails can enhance their online customer service and gain that extra bit of leverage over the competition.

In this day and age, high street retailers are facing the predicament of “eat or be eaten”- adapt to the digital retail marketplace or endure significant losses, not only in terms of sales but customer satisfaction. Today’s consumer wants to connect with business across multiple channels and expects a personalised service regardless of the communication medium they are using. Yes, shifting your business online holds numerous risks, however, it is a necessary move for retailers determined to meet their customers’ need in the ever-changing, competitive but lucrative digital realm.

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