Has Retail Come Full Circle?

Buying and selling products or services is not a new concept…

…it’s been around since the beginning of time. The trading and bartering that happened centuries ago feels like a far cry from our modern shopping habits now. However one thing remains intrinsic to both: the relationship between the buyer (customer) and seller (business).

Many years ago consumers could get what they needed by taking a leisurely walk to their local shops. Unlike the omni or multi-channel retailers of today,  managers of these often independent outlets only had to think about managing a single channel.  Ensuring a convenient location, well stocked shelves, competitive pricing, immediate access to goods and a focus on personalised customer service was key to their success.  

As consumer demand grew retailers expanded into new opportunities. Urban high streets opened up; a combination of independents and department store type retailers selling a variety of goods.  For other larger chain stores such as supermarkets, soft furnishings and home improvement this saw them pop up in retail parks based on industrial estates providing consumers with drive to destinations. For those that don’t drive or can’t transport large bulky good their a bit of a nightmare!  As more and more retailers entered the market businesses that thrived offered convenience, great customer service and highly competitive pricing to attract and retain customers.    

By the late 1990’s the internet was fast becoming mainstream and most retailers started to launch their own E-commerce websites. Many found themselves launching into new unknown sectors as consumers could now make purchases from the comfort of their own home. Retailers now had to operate both online and office which meant trading as a Multi-Channel business.  

As online shopping matured retailers had to quickly understand the impact and new opportunities E-commerce would have on their business. Then there was all the new expectations placed on them by consumers.   

Online was fast becoming the new virtual shop window. Consumers soon expected the online purchase journey to be as easy as in-store. This wasn’t to be the case initially though as online sales struggled due to high basket abandonment rates, high delivery charges and lack of convenient delivery times.

Retailers responded by offering a more seamless Omni-Channel experience designed to drive footfall traffic into stores. 

One example of this is Click & Collect or BOPIS (buy online pickup in-store) for our American friends. Consumers were given the option to buy online and collect next day in-store, which soon became same day, which will soon become straight away.  

76% of online shoppers would be using click and collect services by 2017.  

A prime success story of a retailer providing exceptional service for their customers is The Home Depot. The Home Improvement retailer based in the US has seen exponential sales growth over the past 4 years due to the success of it’s E-commerce platform and omni-channel options.        

So has retail come full circle?

It certainly feels that way...We started off by saying that many years ago consumers could just simply walk down to their local shops that were in convenient locations, had well stocked shelves, competitive pricing,  immediate access to goods and a focus on personal customer service.      

Fast forward to today's consumer and expectations haven’t really changed. They still want their shopping experience to be convenient; instant access to purchases; competitive pricing and to feel like they’ve had personalised experience. In the same way a local shop could supply products instantly off the shelf, consumers these days want their purchases On-Demand too.                 

On-Demand retailing is said to be on trend, but I believe that technology has just enabled shopping to just come full circle and retailers who can provide their customers with seamless, personalised multi-channel experiences with instant access to their purchases however they wish to collect or have them delivered stand the best chance of survival in highly competitive market.

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