More and more of people are turning to the Internet to shop. Whether it‘s ordering groceries, buying a book, or scouring eBay for a bargain, we‘re spending more on the Net than ever before. This year, Brits are set to spend £45 billion online with the average shopper spending more than £1,000 for the first time.
In the UK, online shopping is expected to account for 13.5% of all retail sales this year, according to research published by the Centre for Retail Research and RetailMeNot recently. While this is music to the ears of online retailers, what exactly does the shift towards online shopping mean for independent merchants?
The picture is mixed. Last year, 15,182 independent retailers closed their doors, however 15,908 opened new brick and mortar locations according to the research by Local Data Company. In fact, the number of independent retailers has grown every year since 2009 despite the difficult economic environment.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that small retailers with fewer than 10 employees enjoyed the biggest growth in retail sales in February, with a 13.4% increase in spend compared to February 2013. Comparatively, larger retailers with 100 employees or more saw sales grow by just 2.6%.
While much of this growth has come from the high street, where independent retailers have been taking over stores left empty by the big national chains, retailers have also embraced the internet to display their wares. Initiatives such as Target 200 and MyHigh.St have given independents the support needed to set up shop online, where they can tap into a much larger and diversified customer base.
With online sales set to grow at by 15.8% this year, compared to just 2.4% in bricks-and-mortar stores, it‘s clear that retailers must adapt their offering. Rather than viewing the internet as a threat, independent merchants should embrace it as a powerful complement which can help them drive sales.
Targeting shoppers with digital vouchers is one way that traditional retailers can do this. More than a third of ABC1 shoppers have printed off a voucher received online and redeemed it on the high street, according to a study by Vouchercodes.co.uk. Vouchers are a highly effective tool for retailers looking to attract new customers and reward the loyalty of existing ones both online and in-store.
With more people shopping online and via mobile devices, there are a great many opportunities for merchants to use these channels to incentivise shoppers to make purchases on the web and on the high street. Retailers that react to this shift in shopping will enjoy the fruits of their labour.