Online retailing is fast becoming the obsession of global retail operators and commentators. It is filled with start-up retailers launching their businesses online and traditional bricks and mortar retailers making the shift online. To be successful, prospective online retailers need to understand the fundamentals of retailing and how to effectively manage their brands in the online space. The sector is dynamic, exciting and growing at a frenetic pace.
Many retailers are taking steps toward launching online, shifting an existing business online or developing a multichannel presence. This is largely motivated by the uptake amongst customers of online retail shopping and the perceived benefits to business of operating online
Modern retail can no longer be discussed without a large amount of focus being placed upon online retailing. In Australia online sales have been growing at 20-30% annually and in early 2013 online sales represents approximately 5-7% of the overall retail market. This may be a surprisingly small figure given the amount of media attention online retailing seems to attract. However, the momentum is with online and traditional retailers are paying attention to how online retailing is currently impacting and is likely to impact their businesses in the future. As the NBN rolls out across the nation, online retailing is only likely to increase making its impact an essential consideration for all retailers.
Taking a retail brand online
For online retailers specifically, branding the business yields both internal and external benefits. Externally, a strong brand identity resonates with customers. It encourages customers to connect on an emotional level and go in pursuit of the brand to fulfil that emotional connection with a purchase.
Within the business, a strong brand serves as an internal compass of focus. It dictates internal decision-making ensuring they are always made in alignment with the brand. For online retailers this is essential as the lack of a physical space can dilute the experience of brand for their teams making it more challenging for them to represent the brand authentically in customer facing roles.
To take a retail brand online there are several key steps:
- Brand design
- Integration of brand strategies
- Investigation of customer brand perceptions
- Benchmarking of the brand proposition
- Brand communication
Effective branding is most crucial for products and services sold in large consumer markets via B2C (business to customer). It’s also important in B2B (business to business) because it can help businesses to stand out from their competition. It brings the competitive position and value proposition to life and positions the business in the mind of its customers.
When companies compete against each other, the one that represents something valuable will have an easier time reaching, engaging, closing and retaining customers. A strong brand strategy can be a big advantage. Businesses that have a defined brand strategy and use it in every interaction strengthen both their key messages and consumer relationships.
Benefits of taking a retail brand online
Many retailers are attracted to the online space due to the perceived benefits of online trading. Online trading permits brands to leverage upon features unique to the Internet including customer convivence, global reach andtracking consumer data.
Online retail brands can also be successfully promoted through the development of online communities. By encouraging interaction between customers (chat rooms, threaded discussions, special interest groups, e-mail exchanges) improved customer loyalty can be achieved.
The opportunities are seemingly endless and retailers making significant headway in the online space are those that are developing their platform based upon strategic decision making aligned with tailored brand message and direction.
Aligning brand management strategies
For any retailer in the online space the alignment of brand management strategies is essential. For those launching an online arm of an existing bricks-and mortar-operation, this alignment is even more necessary.
Customers will expecta level of consistency between all forms of brand communication and all forms of brand experience. If a certain level of customer service is offered instore, it will be expected to be replicated online. If a certain style of visual communication is employed online, it will be expected to be referenced in advertising and in physical stores. The level of consistency does not mean they need to be the same in each context; rather they need to be authentic.
A great brand strategy allows for effective communication with customers and the wider market. Business can utilise marketing, advertising, public relations and social media to consistently and accurately reinforce its character or personality. Although developing a brand strategy can be challenging it is a vital step in creating company identity.
Looking to gain an edge in online retail? The ARA Retail Institute provides leading accredited training options including the Diploma for Retail Management (Multichannel).
Find more information about the services provided by The ARA Retail Institute here.