Scarcely do I have a conversation with anyone in the business these days without talk turning to ecommerce.
Whether it is how well online trading is going, or how poorly, or how challenging it is to make money, it is a subject near the top of many people’s agendas.
As heads spin with all the new acronyms, jargon and latest must-have gimmicks, I sometimes think too many people lose sight of what it is all about - ecommerce is just about selling stuff at a decent profit. It is good old-fashioned mail order dressed up with modern technology.
I admire independent boutique owners who can make a real go of this peculiar discipline, but my view, as regular readers of this column will recall, is that running a transactional site is not appropriate for all, or even many, smaller retailers. Running an etail site equates to having a second business and I am fully aware that many fashion entrepreneurs are fully occupied running a shop, let alone adding a website too. But I have been astonished recently by how many indies miss a huge trick by not properly promoting their bricks-and-mortar existence on a digital platform.
Every fashion shop needs a website as an online shop window. What I have noticed is that many independent retailers fail to even show a decent image of their shop on their site. The much-vaunted “seamless experience” for consumers just doesn’t exist. Amazingly, it is often a job in itself to uncover the address and contact details of the physical store. Too often, I have noticed, there is very little personal identity on indies’ websites. They run a familiar line-up of their brands’ lookbook images (which is why so many websites appear very similar) but there are no images of the owner and his or her key staff - the very people that provide the personal service indies always tell me they excel at.
It might be a useful exercise for indie fashion retailers to take a deep breath and look again at their sites through the eyes of a new customer who does not know the business. Surely the idea of a non-transactional website is to encourage people to come into the shop itself? I have yet to find an indie website that features, for example, a short video tour of the shop or any videos of the owner, manager or top salesperson actually talking to the viewer.
A personal complaint of mine is that many, many sites are so impersonal. How many retailers can truly say that their online appearance is different? If your site is different, please let me know.
In the realm of the high street majors, the full-year figures from Marks & Spencer this week produced no surprises. The business is still playing catch-up with its more nimble rivals (step forward Primark and Next) and I’ll believe it has turned the corner when it has shown 14 quarters of growth, as opposed to just the one.
Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to the hundreds of you who sponsored me and my four Drapers colleagues - Victoria Hart, Rosie Birchenough, Lizzie Fuller and Hannah Burnel - in the Superhero 10km run last Sunday, May 17, in aid of trade kids’ charity FTCT. We have more than doubled our target of £5,000 through the incredible generosity of the Drapers community. Donations have ranged from £5 to £1,000. Please visit Mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/victoriahart1 if you’d like to add to the total. Much to my surprise, dressed in a superman outfit I completed the 6.2-mile course in 58 minutes and enjoyed it far more than I am admitting.
Thanks for your brilliant support.