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Why no high street retailer can afford to be an offline business

3 minute read

Shopping habits are evolving, with more and more of us buying online rather than on the high street. For retailers, this means that having some sort of online presence is now essential. Not convinced? Here are some of the reasons why getting online could be the best thing you do for your business this year.

Online is the new high street

Online shopping has grown enormously in recent years, with mobile phones and tablets increasingly being used to do online shopping as well as desktops. With many consumers abandoning the high street in favour of shopping online from home, high street retailers can adapt to this trend by setting up an e-commerce website and offering products for sale online as well as in-store. Diversifying in this way opens up a huge new avenue of potential customers, as well as giving existing customers another way to buy from you.

Websites aren’t just used for buying

You don’t necessarily need to have e-commerce functionality to benefit from being online. Even if they buy in-store, the chances are customers have already done their research online. Consumers like to be able to read product details and reviews online, where they have access to a huge amount of impartial information. They may also want to find out more about your company before buying from you, or just find out where their nearest store is and what its opening hours are. This means that your website can act as a sort of online brochure, even if your products have to be purchased offline. What’s more, lots of people search for relevant shops near them before visiting in person. If your website appears in searches for “furniture stores near [location]”, for example, it’s more likely that customers will come to your shop – and this will even bring in customers who might not have known about you before.

Social media connects you with your customers

Building an online presence and connecting with customers is most effective when you combine having a website with social media. Social media is a great way to build a relationship with your existing customers and reach new ones, and many independent retailers generate lots of extra business just by spending time on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These are ideal for regular updates that show the human side of your business, as well as featuring your products and running promotions. You don’t necessarily have to be on all of them if you don’t have time, but your customers and potential customers are highly likely to be using these platforms, so not being on them means you’re missing out on opportunities to grow your fan base organically.

Linking online and offline shopping

Though online shopping has revolutionised retail, we’re seeing an increasing connection between online and offline buying as customers look to the convenience of online while missing the personal touch of offline. Smart retailers are using what they learn about customers online to offer a better, more personalised experience in-store. For example, through its loyalty programme, Waitrose lets you choose your own offers online for you to use in their stores, while many other retailers offer the option to purchase online and collect the product in-store. This brings would-be online shoppers into the shop, where your excellent customer service can remind them why it’s still nicer to shop offline.

It’s easier than ever before to get online

Thanks to platforms like WordPress, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to get online. Website hosting costs next to nothing, while you can choose from innumerable free WordPress themes to make your site look professional without having to hire a web designer or developer to build it for you. Take a look at our advice on planning your website to get started.

A collection of articles written collaboratively by members of the UK Domain Team.

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