eCommerce for the masses – building an online shop without any technical skills has finally arrived

20 Feb

On Christmas day in 2009 a staggering £138 million pounds was spent by UK shoppers [Internet Retailling] with online retail stores and while the high street saw a tough January, online continued to flourish. Online shopping represents around 5% of UK retail sales, but in the peak period it goes much higher and recent research from Kelkoo predicted that online sales will bypass high street sales at Christmas 2015 – just five years time.

So who are the winners? Well, unsurprisingly it is the large retailers that are making the most of the online growth. Amazing figures from one eCommerce provider just released showed that retailers on their platform grew their online sales on average 84% year on year for the critical 4th quarter (2008 to 2009). So it is possible to adapt retail to the post broadband world.

But what does the smaller retailer do? Recent coverage across the UK media with headlines such as the Guardian ‘Ghost town threat as UK shops fall empty‘ paint a grim picture with claims that in some areas around 25% of independent retailers have closed down in the last 2 years. The fundamental issue is that there are huge myths out there that trading online is;

a) technically difficult

b) expensive

c) out of reach of the small independent

Five years ago, yes to all three. Back then (pre-broadband) the eCommerce platforms were complex, difficult to set up and more importantly difficult to run. If you wanted to make changes you had to go back to your service provider who would charge you hundreds of pounds to change text or images.

2010 is a very different time. Broadband has arrived and customers’ demands from their online stores have accelerated and the eCommerce industry has responded. One of the heavyweights unveiled a new platform in January that looks like the first that truly brings eCommerce to the masses – with zero technical skill required. Don’t believe the hype? This week they released an incredible video showing the building of a clothing store from zero to trading in under 10 minutes – conveniently enabling it to be loaded onto YouTube.

The big differences with these new platforms from previous attempts to bring eCommerce to independents are that in addition to the ease of use there are some interesting elements of this new breed that are brought straight from the big retailer world:

a) the platforms are fully hosted and can be accessed from any internet connection. Previous attempts at opening up to the masses using open-source have the fundamental challenge of having to get the shops set up and hosted securely.

b) they are software as a service, and as such upgraded centrally on a regular basis – all stores get upgraded to the latest version at the same time as part of the monthly license

c) The design layers are open to any design agency that wants to build a design for one of their customers so as a retailer you are completely in control of your own destiny

Enterprising regional governments have been quick to utilise this new technology. The Shop Isle of Man program aims to get 100 retailers up and running online and within a few months of launch has over 30 stores up and running delivering lots of footfall and interestingly quite a lot of export sales for the independents involved.

There are plenty of support organisations out there as well helping special interest groups like homeworkers for instance – Enterprise Nation champions the cause of homeworkers including those running businesses 5-9 alongside their day jobs.

So its’ easy for small independents to trade online then? If they know these myths have been blown away then yes, but the reality in the UK so far is actually sadly no. All the technical and cost barriers have been removed but a critical barrier remains. The way we go about communicating to and about our retailers.

Tens of thousands of column inches in recent weeks have been handed over to the doom and gloom of ‘ghost towns and streets’ but how many news reports and articles have you seen showcasing those independents that are changing and adapting to the new world and expanding their business? Less than 1% is the answer.

Five years ago we had a clunky and difficult to use website that cost us a small fortune to maintain – now we can update our online store in minutes ourselves and receive orders from all over the world including the USA, Japan and Australia – and it costs us under £50 a month to maintain. eCommerce for the masses is here, we just need to let the masses know.

host town threat as UK shops fall empty

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Posted by on February 20, 2010 in Independent Retail, Publishing


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