Some of the most interesting conversations we have been having this year with independent retailers in particular have centred around online retailing. It seems that retailers are either complete converts to selling on the internet or steadfast sceptics.
Those that haven’t taken to the web yet argue that their product is either too specialist to buy online (you need to try it on and feel it to understand it) or too expensive. Others say that the logistics of handling an online sales operation and the ensuing returns (which, according to retailers I spoke to, average about 30%) is just too much to take on.
Those that have gone online, and done it well, haven’t looked back.There seems to be no upward price limit for goods people will buy online. Bags and accessories are easy to sell on the web because you don’t need to try them on, but one retailer I spoke to sells £2,000 dresses to an international customer base with no problem at all, much to his own surprise.
And even specialist products such as lingerie, which rely wholly on fit, will sell online. Once a client knows a brand and knows their size, they’ll happily buy online and may prefer to do so than visiting a store.
The key to success in virtual retailing, as in the real world, is reputation. If you have a strong reputation in the real world, you’ll have more chance of succeeding in the virtual world (bar a few notable exceptions, such as Asos.com, Figleaves and Net-a-Porter, which have all created their reputations in cyberspace).
However, you do need to ensure that your virtual store holds true to the values of your physical store; environment, service and merchandising are just as important online, if not more so.
As well as having a good offline reputation, you also need a great line-up of brands to sell. People may not know you, but if they’re looking for a designer bag or dress that has sold out in all the obvious London stores, for instance, they will simply enter the item’s name into a search engine. If you have optimised your site for such things, your name should pop up. If this customer has a good experience buying their must-have item from you, chances are they’ll be back for more.
The downside is, of course, that setting up an online store is not as easy as throwing a few garments onto a web page and waiting for the money to come in.
Some have said that if they had known at the start how much hard work would be involved in setting up an e-store, they may never have done it. But, ultimately, they have nearly all been glad they did.
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