The latest British retail figures from the ONS emerged recently for April, and for many retailers already feeling the strain on the high-street, they did not come as welcome news. Retail sales suffered their biggest drop in a year, blamed in part by the unusually cold weather in April and restricted household budgets, as consumers continue to feel the squeeze.
Retail sales fell by 1.3% in April compared to March and rose by only 0.5% against the preceding year, much less than expected by economists. For high street only retailers in particular, this cold snap was felt even more keenly as the ONS found that 10% of sales in April happened online up by 13.2% against the same month last year.
With stark statistics such as these clearly showing the ongoing changes in consumer shopping habits, this only serves to highlight the importance of having an online presence for modern-day retailers. In fact according to a recent survey, 15% of British shoppers said they are keen to support local and independent stores, but 10% also cited lack of web presence as reason to choose national chains instead.
High-street retailers looking to weather the peaks and troughs of our current economy must consider implementing a joined up multi-channel strategy. Whether it is having a 'click and collect' service, mobile shopping and payment channels, or simply having an easy to use website, retailers must ensure that wherever and however consumers are buying, they are there to supply them. The recent decision for supermarket Morrison's to partner with internet grocer Ocado to manage its online deliveries, highlights only too clearly that even the larger retailers can no longer afford to ignore the power of a customer-centric multi-channel strategy.
It is the customer that must remain at the heart of all retail strategies and retailers must ensure that they deliver a level of experience that customers expect across their preferred service channel. As customers embrace a variety of retail channels, it is now simply up to retailers to understand and act upon the changing consumption habits and preferences of consumers.
The term 'omni-channel' may not appeal to us all but the economic back drop, changing customer expectations and technology evolutions in mobile, tablet and internet access will conspire and force businesses to get joined up quickly if they are to avoid being a casualty in the near future.