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How to meet the challenges of Online Retail

How to meet the challenges of Online Retail

By Glenn Batty, group technology director, bezier group

We are seeing phenomenal growth in ‘online shopping’, and it is a trend that is predicted to continue exponentially. Statistics show that £4.5bn was spent online in January 2008 alone - the equivalent of £74 for every individual in the UK, and a huge year-on-year increase of 75 per cent.

Today’s consumers are prepared to spend more time researching their requirements prior to making a purchase commitment.

Recent studies have reported that more than two thirds of shoppers find product ratings and reviews are the most influential features in determining their online purchase decisions. Much more credibility is therefore attached to social networking sites and feedback forums than ever before; Web 2.0 and beyond.

‘e-tailing’ has come a long way since the early days of modern behemoths such as Amazon, but while consumers are primarily using traditional PCs to access shopping sites, there is a growing trend in accessing via mobile phones and e-tailers are responding to this trend in the development of their websites.

The UK is some years behind market leader Japan, and whilst m-commerce is a new and expanding business in both the UK and the US, the Japanese have been engaged since 1999 (using ‘i-mode’*, their own equivalent of ‘WAP’).

O2 invested in this technology, but abandoned further development last year as the initial subscription uptake fell drastically short of their expectations. Use of this technology has survived commercially in some European countries, notably Germany and Russia, and worldwide subscriptions to this service are now estimated at five million users.

Amazon in Japan is a great example of mCommerce – the site is optimised for access via a mobile phone (using the i-mode service) and can navigate directly to pages based on barcodes ‘scanned’ as pictures from the phone’s camera. Mobile users in Japan can also take advantage of mCommerce directly from magazine articles.

Digital codes form part of the advertisement, and the phone user can browse directly to the advertisers’ online site simply by photographing it. With the launch of upgraded mobile devices like the iPhone, it’s only a matter of time before UK e-tailers will start to engage fully.

Over the next few years we can expect to see a convergence in technologies, and the primary ‘computing’ access device is likely to be the mobile phone: mobile devices (of which there are around three billion worldwide) already outnumber PCs at around 3:1. 

In the meantime, retailers and brands will most likely make increasing use of SMS/MMS alongside existing email marketing campaigns – sending website links for offers and promotions direct to consumer mobile phones.

With this in mind, bezier group will shortly be launching its own specialist digital agency to provide seamless integration between offline and online activation of marketing campaigns, and is focussing strategically on the technology that underpins retail and shopper marketing.

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