Here on the Integrity Trader blog we recently discussed how technological developments are transforming the face of retail – both from a consumer’s and a retailer’s perspective. Of all the technological developments to hit the retail landscape in recent years, however, online retail is undoubtedly the most profound. In this article we’re going to discuss how online merchants are affecting the retail sector, and how builders’ merchants software can help you to redress the balance.


The growth of online retail


Not so long ago there was really no such thing as online retail. One need only go back a decade or so to find a time when auction sites such as eBay were in their infancy, and consumers were deeply suspicious and mistrustful of using the internet to process transactions. Today, such misgivings are a thing of the past. It’s anticipated that UK-wide online sales will total £52.25 billion this year – that’s the equivalent of 15.2% of all retail sales. It’s clear that ecommerce is a rapidly growing sector and one that promises to increase its market share in years to come.

Ecommerce has combined with other technologies to increase its influence even further. A recent study predicted that a quarter of the world’s population will be using smartphones by 2016, and it’s this swift uptake in mobile technology that is consolidating the future of ecommerce. For consumers, ecommerce is all about convenience – it’s far simpler to order products with a few quick taps of a smartphone than it is to actually visit a retailer, browse the products on offer and make a decision there and then. Experts believe that mobile ecommerce will grow by 88.7% across Europe in 2015 alone.


The role of traditional retailers


Naturally, the rise of online retail leaves traditional retailers in a somewhat delicate position. For many, there’s a sense that they must assimilate with the ecommerce trendsetters or risk being left behind – if you don’t have an online sales portal then you could be missing out on huge swathes of the market. However, ecommerce isn’t necessarily right for every sector of the retail landscape, and there are still factors that guarantee traditional retail a favourable market share. These include:

· Delivery times. Ordering products online is super convenient until you factor in the time it takes for those products to be delivered. If you want a product immediately, you need to go and purchase it in person.

· Delivery costs. Sometimes it’s more convenient to have products delivered straight to our front door, but the costs can be off-putting. Standard delivery is slow but comparatively cheap, while swifter delivery options can be hugely expensive.

· Guarantee of quality. Although our mistrust of online retail is largely a thing of the past, there’s still no guarantee that the items we order online will be exactly as they’re described. Traditional retail gives consumers the chance to examine products in person, preventing unpleasant surprises post-sale.

· Customer service. Ecommerce remains an impersonal way of purchasing products and services. In many industries, consumers rely on the knowledge and experience of shop staff to help them make purchase decisions. This is certainly true of builders’ merchants and hardware stores.

There’s no doubt that construction industry retailers face stiff competition from their ecommerce competitors, but it remains a retail sector built on face-to-face interaction. If you’re to retain your loyal customers while adding new ones in the face of competition from online retailers, you need to provide your customers with the finest possible service. Use Trader builders’ merchant software to better manage your stock, record customer credit limits and purchase records, manage promotions and process transactions more swiftly, keeping your customers satisfied.