Online retailing has boomed in recent years with the world’s four biggest online markets, UK, US, China and Germany estimated to reach £645 billion by 2018, an increase of £320 billion between now and then. Whilst online retailing does excite the masses, many are still turning to offline methods to shop for their goods and it’s something I’ve experienced firsthand myself.
When I originally started Cloudstix, it was online only and a channel I was quite happy to have pursued, with offline not something I’d considered. However, when people began to turn up at the address my website was registered at, I started to set up Cloudstix stores.
Now that I have 5 stores and stockists of Cloudstix across the UK, I can see the benefits and importance of having both an online and offline presence. Whilst online retailing is clearly on the rise, my physical stores are crucial to my business and they both serve to support each other.
The Benefits of Online Retail
Perhaps one of the reasons why online retail is so successful is due to its increased accessibility and the ability to shop 24 hours a day. Despite increased trading hours, many still don’t have the opportunity to visit physical stores and with busy lives, shopping from the comfort of our own home becomes increasingly appealing.
For many new businesses, the online world has enabled businesses of all shapes, sizes and industries to set up shop online and test out new markets. Online has a relatively low risk when compared to setting up a physical store as the variables associated with a store can often be deemed high risk. Expensive rents, shop fits, staff and running costs aren’t necessary when setting up online.
Whilst you still need a certain amount of infrastructure to your business this is all dependent on your size and expect growth. There are other costs to consider when it comes to online such as hosting and server fees.
Online allows you to reach a much wider audience, providing its marketed well, than one single store can. There are no limits on who can find you on the internet, whereas there are certain restrictions customers may place on themselves in terms of distance they are willing to travel to visit you.
Why Offline is Still Important
The argument for investing in an online store is strong but there are still many reasons why offline is a successful channel for many too. An offline store helps to add to your credibility as a brand, when a store is associated with a certain location it helps to reinforce the brand message that the company is reputable.
Relationships are hard to build online and building up trust offline is much easier than through a screen. Whilst online chats built into a site can help to add a more personal touch to a site nothing can compare to the physical element that comes along with a store. Whether a customer wants guidance on a product or the opportunity to see an item in person, offline adds a personable touch that online can’t yet deliver.
Stores have also proved they can evolve alongside online too, as click and collect and order points become the norm in many leading retailers and supermarkets. Whilst for smaller retailers this may be costly to invest in, the path to follow has already been created, whilst innovation within the market develops.
Having operated in both channels, I fully understand the importance of both online and offline and for me they serve each other well. Previously online was simply an online directory to research store location and as such my website still helps to serve my stores in this way to this day. Whilst the death of the high street is long talked about the argument for offline is still waging strong and online hasn’t killed it off yet.