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Embrace etail but handle with care

Katherine Rushton

It’s been a bleak week for indies, with the news that two well-established names have bitten the dust. The perennial pressures of rising rent and a drop in sales stopped the books balancing at Marmalade, while Bagga Menswear collapsed partly due to a failed online venture.

Bagga should be saluted for being entrepreneurial enough to embrace ecommerce, but its website was blighted by technical and fulfilment difficulties - and herein lie lessons for all retailers.

It’s not enough to just have a transactional website. As David Smith points out in his Talking Business column, that site has then got to perform, making it easy for customers to pay and ensuring their the order is fulfilled and successfully delivered. It also has to be findable in the first place - reaching out to new customers and not just those that would have otherwise shopped in store.

While this is a challenge for all retailers, it’s especially difficult for indies that have lower stock levels than multiples and cannot justify the same sort of expenditure on infrastructure

and experienced ecommerce staff. They must also fight hard to forge connections with shoppers outside of their immediate catchment areas, and face stiff competition from multiples which already have strong national brands and money to invest in developing communities online. Just look at Arcadia’s newly relaunched websites, full of slick photography and style advice.

Done well, however, it’s always worth the investment. According to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, online fashion sales jumped 22% in June against the previous year, and indies such as Sarah Coggles and Xile both trade successfully online, thanks in part to solid reputations and hyper-efficient fulfilment strategies.

Online ventures can be risky. But done right, they also reward the brave.

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