What does 2018 hold for the world of retail?
One thing is for sure: online shopping is here to stay – and anyone doubting that need only look at recent Black Friday online spending data compared to high-street footfall. Early estimates suggest that Christmas 2017 could well go the same way, with online shopping expected to grow by 11.8 per cent year-on-year.
And what is driving this trend? All signs point to the popularity of mobile devices: 97 per cent of UK shoppers own or have access to a smartphone, and 85 per cent to a tablet , and shopping on tablets and smartphones is already outstripping total online spending by four to one in the UK. Recent PayPal research found Christmas to be the most popular calendar event for shopping on mobile, with 33 per cent of consumers shopping on smartphone, and 24 per cent on tablet. All evidence suggests that retailers should be keeping their eyes firmly on the small screen in order to maximise profit this Christmas.
Despite this, the research reveals that small retailers are failing to keep up with changing consumer habits, and only 27 per cent have optimised their websites for mobile shopping. That is above the UK average of 18 per cent, but startlingly low for an industry where customer experience is all-important – especially when you consider that lack of mobile friendly websites ranks first among consumer frustrations when shopping on mobile.
We hear from small businesses that their first challenge is actually getting people to their website. At this time of year, competition is high. Shoppers are time-poor, and looking for the best bargain. If a small business doesn’t allow a consumer to have a good experience on their site, getting it wrong even once could not only mean losing that sale but losing those shoppers for good.
The good news is that bridging the gap between customer expectation and what small retailers offer need not be daunting. There are small changes that businesses can make to give themselves a fighting chance.
First among these is making their website mobile friendly and able to adjust to a smaller screen size. Mobile browsing overtook desktop internet use last year, and at such a busy time of year, shoppers appreciate ease of use – the less scrolling and pinching at a screen, the better. As the founder of Prezzybox, a small business, Zak Edwards explains: “More traffic than ever – around 60 per cent – is coming from mobile devices, so our website needs to be easily accessible on smaller screens. We need to be sure that our customers enjoy shopping with us.”
Knowing your customer is also all-important, and adapting marketing strategy to mirror their shopping habits can help catch them at prime shopping time. For instance, in the UK, although people browse throughout the week, they’re twice as likely to make a purchase on Fridays and Saturdays than any other time of the week. Similarly, sharing promotions on customers’ favourite social channels makes it more likely they will follow the path to browse your products, and ultimately make a purchase.
Finally, be considerate of shoppers’ time in the run-up to the busy Christmas season. 44 per cent of shoppers are most likely to purchase on their mobiles when buying last minute – rising to 52 per cent of 25 to 34-year olds – meaning simple user experience and a speedy checkout are all-important. The same goes for security, as 65 per cent of shoppers would only purchase from a website whose payment options they recognised.
Although adapting to changes in how people shop can seem like a challenge, we urge small retailers to see this as an opportunity – especially given that Christmas is the most lucrative holiday for 82 per cent of retail small-to-medium businesses . Shoppers love to snap up bargains, and even more so when they can do it on the go. With 30 per cent of Brits expecting to use their smartphones to shop more often in the next 12 months, optimising your website for the mobile screen could be the best decision small retailers make this year.
Nicola Longfield is the Director of Small Business at PayPal UK