Cape Town - Digital sales are presenting a significant challenge to traditional stores as consumers spend more time online, but it will be a long time before internet retail becomes mainstream, an insider says.
Matthew Goslett, technical director of Citymob told News24 that the function of traditional stores will change and that online retailers would do well to employ a customer support to ensure a more personal online shopping experience.
He argued that retailers in SA are not adapting to the change in consumer habits in using smart devices.
News24: Will online retail largely replace traditional stores?
Matthew Goslett: We will never lose traditional stores but their function will change. In the US stores can no longer just be a place to hold products. The web can do that a lot better with more choice, convenience and information. To compete, they now focus on providing an exceptional physical experience that you can’t get online.
They have become galleries with incredible service, in store display, ambiance - it's a 'retail theatre'. E-commerce here is a while away from putting this kind of pressure on retailers but it will be exciting when it does - it forces everyone to up their game, innovate and excite the customer.
News24: Is there a reliable enough technology infrastructure to create trust in the online retail platform?
Goslett: Yes for most functions you can use the same world-class international technologies the giants are using. For localised functions like payment gateways and logistics there are a myriad of very good options that are getting better everyday.
News24: Does online depend on adoption by retail giants or will it create new titans?
Goslett: E-commerce started as a simple translation of brick and mortar retailers. What if we created an online bookshop that's the same basic concept but with an infinite number of options, ie: Amazon. Now we are interrogating how people shop and reinventing retail.
For example group buying, flash sales are the new titans - with no brick and mortar equivalent - models built entirely for the web. They are also growing much faster than the previous traditional online retail models. So retail giants need to get involved or they risk being left behind. Online doesn't need them, they need to get online. Simply putting their products online is the bare minimum.
News24: How much of a role does a person contact play in retail purchases?
Goslett: For the most part, e-commerce is a relatively impersonal shopping experience. It requires minimal human interaction. With that said, it's particularly important to engage via the support desk. The more 'human' (humane) you can be, the better. We also make a point of putting a face to every one of our sales which provides a softer insight into who our vendors really are.
News24: With the growth of smart devices, are retailers adapting to SA consumer habits fast enough?
Goslett: No - we're very much behind on this. To be honest, people are still trying to get the web right, so apps etc are a while away. Mobile and tablet is quite a leap for many retailers - it's expensive and high risk. However, we all know the mobile penetration and growth stats vs web, so if you know what you're doing - it's a no brainer.
News24: As the web grows, how will online retailers cope with borderless customers shopping for bargains?
Goslett: This is a marketing and brand positioning challenge more than a web condition. It's only 'borderless' if you are building a generic idea with the same product as everyone else. The same basic business rules apply. Are you differentiated? Do you solve a problem for the consumer?
Is your product, service, user experience, shipping - better? For example - we sell unique, exclusive, curated design products not generic products with a bargain (price) being the only differentiator.