The future of retail and how your business can stay relevant

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Rosana Beechum

It won’t be a shock to know that most people now prefer shopping online, especially since the advent of the pandemic last year. The world of retail has been undergoing many transformations over the past few decades, but lockdowns and quarantines have helped to expedite online trading and ecommerce further into the spotlight. As a business that doesn’t have much focus on the online trading world, it can be a worrying time but there are ways in which you can adapt and retain your popularity even as a smaller, independent trader.

What is ecommerce?
First, it’s important to have a good idea of what this even means. To put it simply ecommerce is trading goods and services via digital, online methods. Most of the population spends at least a small portion of their time browsing the web, and whilst there are many different reasons to be online, in 2019 alone, over 72% of users in the USA used the internet for shopping, and that number has likely grown today. People make use of shopping apps and websites such as Amazon, eBay, and social media marketplaces because it’s an efficient way of purchasing. When buying online, stock is much higher too, giving customers a much better array of things to buy.

Diminishing stock is much more of a risk at in-store locations compared to online shops. If a product is out of stock, being able to search elsewhere is very easy. The use of online services is an understandable evolution of society, as efficiency and speed are essential in such a fast-paced world. Granted, these services have been around for many years, but it wasn’t so long ago, before the days of next day deliveries where it was better to visit a nearby store if you wanted something quickly. So what can you do to remain relevant in an industry that appears to driving customers away from physical, bricks and mortar stores?

Evolve into a semi-digital entity
You know the saying: if you can’t beat them, join them. The chances are, you’ve been working in the retail world for long enough that you have a level of business sense to know you have to move with the times. Spend some extra time focusing on how you can adapt your store into an online business, whether that’s completely, or partially. Spending time researching the way in which other online stores handle sales and entice their customers will give you some great insight into how you can retrofit your shop for the internet. You’ll want to work on a number of visual elements to your brand, including your social media platforms and a great quality website. Providing your customers with a poorly designed and hard to navigate site will turn people away and could risk them never returning and even dissuading others from using your site.

Be aware of what’s trending
As well as keeping an eye on competitors, be aware of these ecommerce trends and adopt any that you find could be relevant to your business model. For example, working with influencers is one of the best things you could do when it comes to marketing your products. Finding popular social media users that have a multitude of active followers can expand the reach of your store a hundred-fold if you choose the right ones to work with.

A potential return to in-person retail?
It may not be time to close the doors to your store just yet. Whilst retail is still very popular online, it’s becoming quite common for buyers to do their research online, comparing prices between stores and then visiting stores in-person to make their purchase. There are a few reasons for this. Visiting a store is still the most efficient way of getting your item and is still more flexible than waiting around for deliveries. They can also spend time examining the product to check for any issues, and even follow up their purchase in the case of forgetting essential additions.

Social media marketing
As mentioned before, social media is probably the most useful medium for growing your brand and pushing your products to more customers. Ideally, you’ll want to put your focus on the platforms that your target demographics frequent. While most people use a majority of social media platforms to some degree, everyone has a particular one that they spend most of their time using. There are some anomalies, but for the most part, certain demographics gravitate to particular social media platforms. Once you’ve identified where your audience is going to be found, spend some time thinking about how you’ll deliver your message via those platforms. Instagram, for example, benefits almost entirely from imagery. It’s a great platform for posting images of products or photos and videos of influencers using those items.

New technology
Invest in updating both your software and hardware to better prepare you for the future of ecommerce. There are a number of new marketing methods out there that are taking the retail world by storm. Augmented reality is becoming extremely easy to implement into both retail spaces and at home. For example, if you sell furniture, you can embed a button into your webpage that quickly and smoothly opens a 3D model that is placed into a real-time viewpoint of your home through your camera.

A great deal of smartphones and tablets are capable of this now, and it’s only a matter of time for nearly everyone to have access to an AR-ready device. Giving customers the ability to view your products in their home before purchasing is a brilliant way of securing a sale. Like the implementation of AR, 3D marketing has been around for a while longer. Instead of flicking through images in a gallery, customers can manipulate a 3D image on your webpage to check out every angle of that object for a better idea of how it looks from different perspectives. This is especially good for fashion items and homeware. Keep an eye on the speedy advancements of these technologies, as it they’re quickly becoming an essential part of the world of online shopping.


Rosana Beechum is a business and marketing undergraduate from Nottingham Trent University in the UK; she is attempting to share her knowledge through writing articles for small business owners.

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