In the May edition of PBM, Editor Paul Davies considered the influence of ‘retail’ theories on the way the merchant sector does business.
Taking a quick detour into the world of retail for a moment, we were interested to see the results of research undertaken recently by Marketingsignals.com which addressed the perennial discussion point of online sales.
In a survey of 1,056 UK adults, the responses indicated that 85% of people still prefer to physically purchase products in store, despite the convenience offered by online shopping. This correlates precisely with the latest ONS figures which show that retail sales in the UK totalled more than £366 billion in 2017 but 85% of sales happen in stores and not online.
Whilst the growth of e-commerce is a factor in the erosion of high street footfall — the current travails of Debenhams probably the most high profile example at present — the digital marketing agency’s survey neatly highlighted how the digital world can actually support in-store buying behaviour. For example, nine in 10 (94%) UK shoppers stated they will always research a product online before going into store to purchase. Tellingly, it also found that 78% of consumers prefer to go to a shop ‘to see and feel a product’ before going online to hunt for the best price.
The conclusion drawn from the survey is the need for modern retailers to be “savvy with omnichannel technological integration in order to survive in the digital age,” utilising their own digital platforms to drive footfall into their premises. Crucially, the reverse is also true, whereby retailers must equally view their physical stores as an extension of their marketing for maximising online revenues.
Whilst appreciating the clear distinctions, there are certainly parallels to be drawn with the changes taking place in the merchant sector, and it was therefore interesting to consider the findings of another survey — conducted by construction marketing and PR agency, CIB — which asked trade professionals a similar range of questions about their own buying habits and how they research information on new products.
Over 800 tradespeople responded and, unsurprisingly, merchants of all stripes scored highly across the trades as the destination for their materials purchases. Perhaps more significantly, there was an endorsement of the merchant sector’s key advantage over its digital-only competition as a source of expertise and advice. For example, despite the many different avenues now available to find information on new products, merchant staff very much remain a key part of the process and were cited by 44% of respondents across all trades as the best source.
Similarly, when asked how they would raise an issue with a product, a “complaint to the merchant” was by far the most common response given by the trade. It may be an occupational hazard for counter staff, but it is a role online sellers can’t match — or turn to their advantage by providing the required levels of service that will have customers coming back for an alternative. In the words of CIB’s Nick Gill, the point once again demonstrates “the valuable role that merchants play in the industry”.
Overall, the survey highlighted the breadth and diversity of influences on the trade — in addition to branch staff, web research, social media, recommendations from friends or colleagues and also the trade press all scored consistently well. As we often say, merchants cannot afford to be complacent about the changing habits of their customers, however the sector starts from — and remains in — a position of strength.
To use the retail parlance described earlier, if merchants can build on this with some “omnichannel technological integration” — and this can be as simple as engaging with their customers on social media, for example — that position will remain unassailable.
“Crucially, the reverse is also true, whereby retailers must equally view their physical stores as an extension of their marketing for maximising online revenues.”