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How niche retailers can maintain their position in the market

How niche retailers can maintain their position in the market

In order to survive the current challenging retail market that lingers as the country strives to pull through the recession, recent indicators are showing that SMEs and start-ups are turning to e-commerce solutions to maintain their market-share and remain profitable, says Wilfried Beeck, CEO of ePages.

It seems that of late, the country may be at risk of getting complacent with the increased frequency of closing down sales and white-washed windows on the high streets from one week to the next, making it a competitive market that only the toughest can survive.

According to the latest research, 35,000 shops face closure in the UK this year and online sales could double in the next two years as the high street declines.

Without surrendering their business to the larger retail outlets, niche retailers must find new ways to sustain business without the costly expense of bricks and mortar. It is likely that the best route to market and means of emerging valiant from the economic downturn will be to launch their business online or refocus energies on an existing web store.

Consumers are increasingly turning to the web to exploit the latest deals or to quickly and easily search for exactly what they want; it doesn’t matter whether it’s for clothes, holidays, or restaurant bookings.

What does matter and is key now more than ever is that if retailers don’t have a website that is easily accessible, displays all stock clearly and in a user-friendly manner, along with availability and price information – and ideally (though not essentially) a means of ordering or booking the product or service – there is a strong chance they will be bypassed in favour of an alternative provider whose offerings are there to see and reserve as the impulse strikes.

However, with the ever-changing pace of the web, keeping up to date with the latest trends, features and design is a full-time job. Owning and managing an e-commerce infrastructure, and all of the powerful servers and vats of memory this would require to maintain performance, leaves businesses with a potentially huge financial and timely burden.

Everything today is now pointing towards a return to a thin-client model of computing, where all of the processor power, memory, applications and data are held centrally and remotely, with only the lightest touch at the business and user ends. Place all the wheels and cogs in the cloud, and all that the business needs to worry about are its customers, its products and how it packages and promotes them; while all the customer needs to be concerned with is connecting to the web.

But small businesses take heed, e-commerce providers can charge an expensive initial outlay to design an online portal; not something any business can or would want to afford, and when the design process is complete, leaves often sub-10 staff niche retailers unable to manage the adaption of the site forcing them to pay additional costs each time an update is required.

It is key to select a scalable solution and choose packages on a supply and demand basis, in response to individual business demands. A solution with this functionality and flexibility supplies niche retailers with the opportunity to trial its online success at a minimal cost.

The concept of retailing continues to evolve with trends indicating that more and more consumers are indeed choosing to browse and buy online. And for the large, sustainable and recession-proof retailing corporation, ploughing money – albeit more carefully of late – into premises, rates, maintenance, staffing and upkeep of a high street presence, the online world is merely an additional gun in their profit arsenal.

However, for niche retailers with no means to outdo the so-called ‘big-guns’, and in fact no desire to do so in terms of their offering, there is an affordable and straightforward route to market through e-commerce.

This is a route that sees them remain competitive and profitable, whilst still retaining that very independence and boutique-style trading manner that makes each and every business in that sector an ongoing success.

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