Stop applauding online sales

Why can't we learn from all retail channels? Phliippa Turrell asks the question

20 Mar, 19

Editor of Kitchens & Bathrooms News Philippa Turrell asks why can’t retailers learn from all channels?

Don't applaud online

We recently received an email from a rather impassioned retailer berating our acknowledgement of an online retailer’s success, and confident plans for growth.

We shouldn’t be applauding the efforts of etailers as they can undercut showrooms, selling products cheaper than traditional bricks and mortar retailers can purchase them, was the general theme.

It’s a sticky situation, particularly when manufacturers are prevented by law to dictate the retail selling price of their products.

The internet has undoubtedly changed consumers’ buying habits and posed the greatest challenge for the entire bathroom and kitchen supply chain.

Price transparency allows consumers to shop for the best deals online, eroding margins; they can shop at their convenience, and the likes of Amazon.com has raised expectations of service with next-day delivery considered standard.

Naturally, then, it has created a “them versus us” etailers versus retailers mentality, with accusations of an uneven playing field.

So it’s really no surprise traditional retailers see online as their greatest competition, according to a recent survey of Ideal Bathrooms’s trade customers.

But, and it’s a big but, the internet is now part of our daily lives and so shouldn’t we all look at what we can learn from online to drive forward all retail businesses with chutzpah.

Otherwise, surely all high street retailing is in danger of following the likes of Woolworth’s, Blockbuster and HMV (again).

While there is a trend for showrooming – going to a showroom to then buy online – there is also a counter-trend for webrooming – going online and then buying in-store.

And here is where traditional retailers have the distinct advantage, by offering an in-store experience that just cannot be matched by a live chat online.

Stunning working displays, allowing consumers to touch and experience the product, providing independent advice and design knowledge can help the retail take an order in-store.

Traditional showrooms and technology also needn’t be at odds.

Just consider the use of immersive technology, such as virtual reality CAD, which can place the customer in the heart of their bathroom or kitchen project.

Equally, traditional retailers can also consider e-commerce to join the small but growing band of omni-channel retailers, selling both in-store and online.

But if that is a step too far, a strong online presence outlining design skills, knowledge and project management service can encourage consumers away from the keyboard and into store.

Online is a continuing challenge for kitchen and bathroom retailers but to admonish the channel or ignore its existence will not benefit those on the high street.

Recognising the strengths and weaknesses of all channels, however, may help traditional retailers evolve to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers.