Light stores - join the small and niche brands winning big online

Written by Neil Gibb

Christmas 2013 marked another huge shift to e-commerce in the UK. Figures across the board showed online becoming central to a whole host of traditional high street brands. Dixons posted 23% growth in online sales, against a figure of 5% growth overall. Halfords saw an increase of 14% sales online against 5.2% overall. And Argos’s online sales rose to represent 50% of an overall sales figure of £1.8 billion - that is getting on for a £1 billion online - with a massive 75% increase in the use of mobile devices to buy items.

This year looks like it will represent a tipping point for e-commerce as it moves from being regarded as a separate or special part of many business to becoming central to both the businesses success and how it operates.

On the back of this January saw a whole host of major UK retailers announcing plans to open or expand ‘dark stores’ - warehouses set up in a similar fashion to normal stores but not open to the public that allow rapid fulfillment of online sales. This trend is perhaps the most significant sign that e-commerce is no longer a separate issue but has become central to how retailers now do business.

At the same time we have seen many small and niche businesses experience even bigger surges in online sales. Our clients base is almost exclusively made up of niche and high value brands. While most are privately owned and thus don’t have to publish figures, our research has shown that the increase in online sales in this sector dwarfed the percentage rises of the larger retailers as the internet suddenly creates a huge global market for retailers that were previously constrained by geography.

The challenge for smaller retailers though is they don’t usually have the scale or resources to justify a separate ‘dark’ operation to fulfill on online sales. This can cause all sorts of pressures on stores that also need to operate as a great retail experience. Often the result is the online business impacts the bricks and mortar, or the bricks and mortar constrains online growth.

Our solution at Message has been the development of a new and powerful e-commence platform to tackle this issue. Called Mothership, it provides a very simple-to-use system (meaning you don’t have to be technically savvy or employ specialists) that allows our customers to not just build and manage an online business, but also manage the whole business from it. Thus instead of needing ‘dark stores’ or trying to run a store at the front of house and an e-commerce business in the back room, our clients just have one integrated business to deal with. Stores become ‘lighter’ as they become more about the customer experience - show rooms, emporiums, great places to be - and the burden on the business becomes lighter as inventory control and fulfilment are easily managed in one place.

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