High-Street Vs ECommerce: What does the future hold for the UK’s high street? Even before Covid a lot more people were buying online through eCommerce platforms. When lockdown restrictions were eased only 9% of the population said they would return to the store immediately as they feel buying online has become the new normal. Does that mean face-to-face retail has become a thing of the past? With the rise in eCommerce sales and a boom in retail brands using social media to engage with their target audiences. We are also seeing the bigger brands struggle, but this could be positive for smaller retailers.
Before the worldwide pandemic, high streets across the UK were looking empty with many shops going into administration. The high rent costs and the increase in online shopping made it difficult for high street only retailers. Online sales have recently increased by 56% in October 2020. Meaning as we head towards a digital Christmas, it is vital that businesses expand their online brand awareness. With more of the population online than ever before now is the time for brands to invest in their digital presence and selling capabilities on online eCommerce platforms.
The rise of eCommerce
ECommerce is not new however, with technology advancing and social media platforms evolving their eCommerce features constantly, more brands are using it. Shopping online has become the new norm mainly due to how convenient it is to many of us, as we can shop for anywhere at any time not constricted by travel or store opening and closing times. Online shopping is a great solution in regards to the on-going restrictions implemented by Covid-19. It’s safer, easier and most retailers have cut the prices of deliveries and are having online sales.
Within the last couple of years, there has been a significant rise in Direct to Consumer (DTC) brands. These are brands that sell directly to customers, not using any third party retailers or wholesalers, some DTC brands open up limited or pop up retail stores but they mostly sell online via their e-commerce platforms. Direct to Consumer brands are more beneficial to customers as they can directly buy from them at a better price due to no middleman fees, but also more likely to build relationships with their customers. The beauty industry was first to see the big move to the DTC model, including brands like Glossier and Colourpop. Direct to Consumer model started in the beauty industry but has started to increase in some other sectors like household goods, fashion and Automotives.
Some brands that have had stores since they were founded would find it difficult to go fully online as they could feel it takes away the customer interaction. However, with the continuing expansion of social media, online experiences are getting better therefore brands can take advantage of this. People are spending more time online and on digital devices therefore meaning more time spent on social media engaging with brands and digital communities. Evidence shows that people aged between 36-45 years old, 45% of them have researched products on Facebook at least once and 22% of people said they have purchased a product after seeing a Facebook Ad. For Instagram, it’s the younger generation who use this channel more for shopping and researching products, as it was found 42% of people aged 18-25 have researched products on Instagram.
Facebook and Instagram have both added ECommerce features to their platform, therefore, consumers can shop directly from their newsfeeds. Even better with Instagram features, if a brand has over 10K followers they can include a “swipe up” feature to their stories, enabling the brand to include direct links to their eCommerce site, to that exact product they are promoting. One thing beauty and fashion brands do well is use influencers on these social platforms to promote their products for them. The reason why influencer marketing works so well for beauty brands is due to influencers creating content using the products in real-time through live streaming or Instagram Reels. By showcasing the product viewers can see if the products are worth buying or not and click links which go straight to the retailers eCommerce website.
Can Small Businesses Compete with Big Brands?
Online shopping is growing massively but how can small businesses keep up with the big brands? Amazon completely dominates the eCommerce market, with 78% of consumers researched products on Amazon. So it is unrealistic to think the smaller brands can become digital and rival amazon however there is plenty of room online for small businesses to grow their brand and increase their sales.
Recently a lot of big high street names have totally changed their customer journey and experience on their eCommerce websites. For example, the beauty brand, MAC introduced their augmented reality makeovers. As the shops were unable to open it’s therefore impossible for the consumer to try out new makeup therefore MAC implemented the virtual tool on their website. Consumers who have used the tool are very engaged with it as you can enable your live camera or upload an image of themselves, then go through a products colour swatches to see what they would like and better suits them. Similar to their stores, you can ask a MAC artist for assistance and advice via their live chat feature on their website.
Big brands can afford to invest in these types of features, however, for small businesses, recent times with Covid-19 have been extremely tough having to close their high street stores losing a large amount of revenue with little support. There have been some small businesses who have thrived through this pandemic by totally flipping their business model and taking their brand online. Small businesses have their unique ability to sell to local customers with a touch of individuality and personality that the big brands can’t do in the same way. People in the UK over the past couple of months have realised how small businesses have been impacted therefore a lot more people are shopping locally and supporting their local businesses. However, with new national or local lockdowns happening, these businesses need to think about how to serve their customers online.
How Social Media and eCommerce Can Grow Small Retailers…
Everyone around the globe has spent a lot more time at home this year and this is one of the key reasons why people have been spending more time on their phones. The research was conducted by Statista that showed 40% of people worldwide have increased the amount of time on social media. This is a good thing for businesses already utilizing social media as a promotional tool as they have even more users to advertise too and a bigger time window to convert them into customers.
Social media can be practically hard for smaller businesses to see a good ROI on, as organic reach is decreasing and advertising costs are constantly increasing, therefore hard for the small brands to keep up with the bigger brands, who have the larger budgets. However, with the increasing support that started during the UK’s national lockdown, to buy from small businesses or local businesses, especially on the run-up to Christmas social media advertising, is an avenue these brands should take. For example, these retail brands can talk about the uniqueness of their products and how it can be a great gift idea for a loved one.
Small businesses can also take advantage of creating audiences for their Facebook Ads. An audience is the people who you are targeting your ads directly to. Therefore you can narrow down your target audience as much as you want, for example, you can base your target audience on their interest, behaviours (including buying behaviours), demographics, gender and lifestyle. For example, if you have a small fashion retail shop and want to take your business online and promote it on social media, you can target an audience that has an interest in fashion, clothes, accessories and narrow it further to include engaged shoppers online – meaning they have made a purchase online within the past 30 days. Facebook ads can be a way to reach a new audience that would’ve never heard of the business before, and if providing valuable and interesting content that suits them, the tailored audience will become a trusted source for high engagement and traffic to your website. For the first time since digital advertising started, effective content is not determined by your budget, as what consumers care about seeing have shifted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Users on social now want to see more positive and uplifting content, they want creativity and a sense of community.
Furthermore, with social platforms now having an eCommerce element to them, this will benefit retail businesses even more as you can upload your catalogue of products to Facebook and they will display them to your target audience. Also, Facebook has Dynamic Ads, these work extremely well for retail brands as a retargeting tool, as you can target consumers who have been on your website but not made a purchase or have left products in their online basket, you can read more about Facebook Dynamic Ads on our recent blog here.
It’s Never Too Late!
Social media has been around for years therefore some people feel they have missed the opportunity to join. For small businesses, in particular, this is not the case, Covid-19 has made it hard for a lot of business however if those businesses are able to pivot their marketing model and notice the huge opportunity that digital marketing can offer them, it could massively increase their brand awareness and sales.
There hasn’t been a better time to move your retail business online, as social media users are increasingly buying more through social ads, again as said previously this could be due to the rise of eCommerce on these platforms and the ease of influencers showing how to dress and style products. Also as technology advances the ability of what advertisers can do online will increase too, as before Covid not a lot of people would have thought they would be trying lipstick colours online, sat at home, however, MAC has made this a reality for their customers.
No one knows for sure what will happen to the high street in the future but with the lead up to Christmas 2020, it does not look good for many of the retail shops. In the meantime, while the high street recovers, the UK retailers are expected to see an increase in growth on their eCommerce platforms. As consumer shopping habits have changed since Feb 2020, more people are preferring buying online, but more interestingly more people are buying from smaller retailers as they have a sense of care towards them knowing they are one of the sectors that have been hit hardest with the restrictions.
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