20 Feb 2019
When you think about shopping online, what are the first names that spring to mind? Unless you have a true affinity with a small, independent store, it’s more than likely going to be something along the lines of Amazon, Walmart, even eBay which, from humble beginnings selling used items that would otherwise have been binned is now a storefront for thousands of business across the world, selling brand new items at cut price rates.
Where, then, does this leave the smaller businesses? When the high street was thriving and people had to shop locally because there was no choice, independents could open up and start making money almost straight away – even the truly niche ones. Today it is a different story altogether, and as much as we love the internet for making the world a much smaller place to communicate and do business in, that has meant a number of potentially business threatening issues are now affecting online (and definitely offline) stores that were once doing relatively well.
However, it may well be that the tide is about to turn.
What is going to happen?
What happened? It’s a good question – but one that is difficult to answer in some ways. In the simplest of terms, it got to the point where some smaller businesses are having trouble competing with the larger corporations because that is what the buying public wanted. Not directly, of course, it really was more of an accident - and that is its saving grace.
If the high street was to close and if they no longer needed to actually go anywhere to do their shopping (after all, even the big food shop can be delivered week in, week out), that was considered convenient. Over time, that convenience started to become… less convenient. Although everything was online, and no one had to leave their homes, their sofas, their beds to make purchases and ask retailers questions, there were so many websites to look at and browse through. So many different places to remember and bookmark, so many tabs open all at once.
So Amazon and the like found an unlikely gap in the market, transforming the online shopping experience once again. This time, rather than lots of smaller stores to filter through, everyone was put in one place – literally, a one stop shop that catered to everyone for everything. In fact, the very thing that retailers are told not to do (don’t be too generalised, make sure you specialise in something) Amazon did, and did it very well. So well in fact that smaller retailers were, to put it bluntly, no longer needed.
And that’s how we got to where we are today.
Is There Any Turning Back?
Yes! Although times may have been tough, there are changes a foot, and smaller retailers can start to breathe something of a sigh of relief…
Now that the buying public have what they wanted, there is a backlash against it. We’re trying to turn away from the larger corporations such as Walmart and Amazon, and looking once more for the independent retailers online and, in some cases, back in the high street. There’s a long way to go, and whether this trend can be entirely reversed we just can’t tell, but something seems to be happening.
Since everything is cyclical, the younger generation may even decide that this should be how it is from now on. They may be the ones who never knew what it was like to journey to the high street, to pop into each different shops searching for bread here, meat there, fruit and vegetables in this place, clothing in that one because they have always shopped online, but maybe, thanks to them, the high street will have a real ‘retro’ comeback. Time, as ever, will tell, but it’s an exciting idea and something that everyone would get behind in one way or another.
The Growing Feud
One of the reasons that turning back to the past and enjoying shopping in a different way is going to be difficult is because of the pricing. Individual stores – online and offline retailers alike – are unable to buy in bulk like the big companies can. So that’s one problem. It’s a big problem due to the ever-growing feud between Amazon and Walmart.com. But it doesn’t have to be a problem that is unmanageable. There are always things that can be done.
Feud may be personalising the ‘battle’ between these giants a little too much – as we know, in business it’s not personal. However, the fight to be the top, to gain the ultimate market share and leave everyone and everything in the dust in happening, and the only real want to make any headway, is to reduce prices. Reduce, reduce, reduce. Again and again. These big businesses can do that because they are making money – massive amounts of it – every day. Plus they can squeeze their suppliers tightly, knowing that no one will want to lose the business of an Amazon or a Walmart, even if the profit margins are becoming difficult to see because they’re so very small.
Independent retailers cannot do this.
But that’s okay. Consumers are becoming more aware of the plight of suppliers, and they understand that cheap doesn’t always mean the best - in most cases it doesn’t.
Just how, then, in seemingly insurmountable odds, can the smaller retailers survive in an Amazon and Walmart world?
There are a few options.
Firstly, some of the smaller retailers could begin to band together. They can create the feel of convenience yet still operate separately. An online store such as Etsy allows for this, for example, so the precedent is there, and old department stores could be a good model for the brick and mortar versions. Add more and more convenience, and people will start to come back.
Next the products should be considered. Having more of the same items that are available online won’t make people choose a physical store, or a separate website. Having unique, unusual products will be far more interesting, and could be exactly what persuades people away from the larger shops. By carrying out market research and looking more into what people are buying, you will be able to determine what it is that will make you stand out.
Pricing is always going to be something important to consider. By always being aware of the pricing (up or down) that is happening in the market, you can work out what you want to do with your own pricing. Remember to always know what your margins are so that if you do choose to lower your prices to make them more competitive, you know that you are still making a profit.
What also needs to be done is to ensure that every item sold is of excellent quality, that the customer service is smooth and efficient, that it is personal. When this happens, the slightly higher price is less noticeable; customers feel they are getting a lot more for their money than they would buying through a faceless organisation. Monitor your reviews to ensure that all is well and if there are any problems that you can address them immediately.
Finally, persuading the buying public to step away from Amazon and Walmart and go back to using independent stores is essential. This will not be an easy task, but it is a crucial one if those independents want to be seen and used. Marketing campaigns that work on this premise are a good start, but it is down to a re-education of the public that will show whether this can work long term or not.
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