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The way people buy and sell products has changed fundamentally over the past 15 years. Whereas previously, the majority of retail sales were made on the high street, now we’re in an era of multi-channel (or omni-channel) retailing where customers will use digital to research and buy, alongside more traditional routes such as in-store purchases.
It seems remarkable that 20 years ago this concept was almost unknown, but today - fuelled by a combination of higher customer expectations and new technologies - eCommerce is an unavoidable part of modern business and consumer life.
Some businesses have grasped eCommerce with open arms and changed how they do things. This may have involved adding eCommerce into their traditional model, or perhaps rethinking their entire operations.
For example, Shop Direct - one of the UK’s leading online retail groups who operate Very and Littlewoods - have their heritage in mail order and high street stores. Their traditional business was suffering a steep decline due to the growth of online, so they dramatically shifted their whole model and are now a wholly online business. Whilst this inevitably caused significant turbulence in the business, it has resulted in a stronger company whose sales and growth are on the up.
But despite the incredible growth of online, there are still many businesses, particularly small companies, who haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities that eCommerce can offer them. In an era of heightened competition, eCommerce could provide a vital lifeline.
When talking about eCommerce, there’s a tendency to think about the big names; Amazon, ASOS, John Lewis, AO.com. Yes, these business have undoubtedly done well online, but there are a whole raft of smaller businesses who are also using online to grow.
My own experience reflects this. I started working in an online business called PowerBulbs in 2000 - the business operates within a real niche market of upgrade vehicle lighting products. When we started, Google was nowhere to be seen, nor were social networks or mobile devices! However, the business continued to evolve and change according to new innovations and has developed into a highly successful company, selling products worldwide.
Traditionally everyone thinks about eCommerce as retail. This is still largely correct but there’s a significant and growing part of the eCommerce sector which focuses on B2B. My own experience involved B2B eCommerce back in the early 2000s. Looking back now, I realise we were quite evolutionary!
Amazon and eBay, whilst big global names, can also be highly useful to small businesses by providing a platform for them to sell products via their websites. Although not suitable for all industries, companies can list products on these sites and access their millions of registered customers, thereby providing a fast track route to sales. There are some important considerations for selling on these marketplaces, but that’s a blog in itself and a topic we’ll be covering in the future.
Buyers in businesses can be quite restricted in how they procure products and services. It can sometimes involve opening an account with a company, something which can take a long time, or liaising with the accounts department to obtain a purchase order.
Today many B2B buyers are recognising the convenience eCommerce offers them in their personal life and demanding the same quality of service in their professional lives. Brands like Viking Direct, the office supplies company, have been well ahead of the curve on this. There’s great potential for B2B businesses to take advantage of this new customer expectation and create a real point of difference by offering a high quality online ordering experience.
Naturally, any project like this won’t happen overnight - it needs careful thought and consideration - but with the right plan it can be a fantastic opportunity to stand out, particularly if you operate in a crowded market.
One of the key opportunities that eCommerce offers businesses is the chance to easily sell their products and services globally. Reflecting on my own early eCommerce experiences, we saw rapid growth outside of the UK from North America and Australia. These countries were easy to do business with and contributed significantly to the success of the company.
If you have a product or service that could appeal to customers outside of your home country, then eCommerce is an efficient and cost effective way to significantly expand the geographic reach of your brand.
If you sell products or services, whether you operate in B2C or B2B, eCommerce could provide your business with some excellent opportunities. You can:
I hope this blog has provided you with some initial insights. Over the months ahead, we’ll be providing a range of articles on a variety of eCommerce topics - all with the aim of helping you to grow a successful eCommerce business. Why not sign up for our newsletter to ensure you don’t miss out on any future posts? As always, we’d love to hear your feedback so please feel free to contact us on Twitter @Statement.