Brownstone Blog

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Shop till you get carpal tunnel syndrome. How on-line retailing impacts the High Street and beyond.


It’s been almost two decades since the music industry woke up to the fact that people weren’t buying CD’s. Windows 95 marked the start of mass-take up of personal computers and the internet, and music downloads were only a mouse-click away. People still wanted music. They wanted to go hear their favourite bands. They just didn’t want piles of CD’s any more or to pay lots of money for them. It took a while for the music industry to catch up – with Napster or the times for that matter.

The start of 2013 has seen many high street names join those who have already closed their doors for the last time. It’s easy to blame challenging economic times. Sure, the economic climate has had an impact but retailers everywhere have to understand that what we are seeing is an even bigger shift in buying patterns than the one that saw CD’s take a backseat to downloads. Why shop in the high street when the internet turns the entire world into your personal shopping mall? And a bargain hunter’s paradise for that matter. Why buy it at your local store when you can get it far cheaper from Amazon? The fact is we’re looking at a major change in the way we all shop – not just how much we pay for the items we want.

The demise of HMV showed not just that the retailer had failed to anticipate a shift but that we’re all buying less physical media – CD’s, DVD’s, Blu-ray discs. It’s a trend that’s bound to continue as we increase the number of devices we can access our media on. Phones, tablets, computers – the lines are blurring. Why buy a disc that can be scratched or lost when you can store it on your personal cloud and watch it anywhere? Just as Kindle and other e readers are set to make actual printed books unnecessary, we can look forward to collections of discs soon becoming a thing of the past.

So, if you’re a savvy, forward thinking retailer, what on-line shopping trends should you be aware of?

In-store pick up: If you’ve got actual stores and branches ensure your on-line activities offer this option. It’s a good way to increase traffic and remind your customers that yes, you still do have a physical presence on the high street.

Mobile apps: Especially those which can generate coupons or give price comparisons.

Use your users. It’s the old KISS rule. Forget flashy apps, virtual changing rooms or 3D walkthroughs.  The stats already show consumers don’t respond. What they do take notice of is a review however so invite your users to submit one.

YouMeTube: Video didn’t kill the retail star. More and more retailers are letting customers submit their own user videos of them using or modelling their products. Invite people to submit theirs. Run a competition for the best one a month. This is a trend that is showing definite signs of growing.

Daily Deals or Flash Sales: You’d be surprised at how quickly items can sell out. Use your database to send out email notifications.

The Net Knows No Boundaries: Think internationally. More and more small, niche retailers are discovering that up to 20% of their business is now international. Get that SEO working and make sure you have the ability to ship internationally in place.

The Social Network: The possibilities offered by social networks have nowhere near peaked yet. Customers like to reach out and get information directly from companies. And the next big thing will be retail-based social networks.

By understanding how on-line retailing can be made to work for them, retailers can continue to have a presence both in the high street – and on the digital superhighway. We used to say ‘the sky’s the limit’. Now we know – it’s the cloud.