Tipping back into profit

Tipping back into profit

No one would deny that the last year has been challenging for retail, but a combination of e-commerce and bricks and mortar has now been cemented as the path to profit

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9th May, 2021

Retail isn’t only about the point of sale – from marketing to merchandising, there’s more to selling than the cash transaction, but nonetheless that point of sale is a crucial step on the customer journey and a potential pain point that has had to change.

Modern electronic point of sale (EPOS) is both changing retail and responding to evolving demands from customers.

Indeed, for in-store transactions, the ability to accept digital payments via smartphone wallets is crucial for businesses, said Lorraine Higgins, secretary general of Digital Business Ireland.

“Accounting for over a fifth of transactions, digital wallets are the second most popular form of payment and this is expected to hold steady in the years ahead, despite the dominance of card payments,” she said.

Outside the store there are also big changes: m-commerce, or mobile commerce, has exploded. Some 45 per cent of e-commerce transactions in Ireland are now conducted in this way.

“Irish consumers are very enthusiastic about using mobile devices for their online purchases [and the] proportion is likely to rise as the rollout of 5G gathers pace,” said Higgins.

Businesses should take note, however, that for the moment there is an almost even split between mobile transactions made through apps and those made on computers.

Notably, this means that a focus on one over the other may mean a missed sale. However, the existence of ready-made platforms can mean even the smallest of businesses can start selling online.

“With social commerce being prominent among in-app purchases, businesses would do well to set up online sales capabilities through the established marketplaces and also those offered by social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. This online infrastructure is a cost-effective way of stepping into the world of e-commerce for small businesses,” said Higgins.

Changes will be needed in store too. The coronavirus pandemic revealed the weakness of just-in-time supply chains, something that could see a return to traditional warehousing.

Indeed, Higgins said that fundamental risks to supply chains are likely to remain even beyond the pandemic, particularly given the impact of Brexit on trade flows between Ireland and key Irish trading partners;

“This necessitates back-ups in the form of larger stocks,” she said.

“Warehousing and stockrooms will also be needed more broadly with the growth of omnichannel retail as staffing or space constraints may in some cases make it sensible to not operate both the digital and traditional offering from the same shopfront.”

Shops may now be open all hours, but if the above puts anyone in mind of Ronnie Barker and brown coats it shouldn’t. A return to stocking on-premise does not mean we are going back to the past. Higgins said investment in innovative solutions such as RFID and shelf tracking will create opportunities to reduce the overall cost of maintaining storage facilities for retailers.

“It allows them to be more targeted in managing their stocks and matching their stock levels to trends in customer preferences and behaviour,” she said.

Meanwhile, according to the Tipping Point report from Digital Business Ireland partner, .IE., online at WeAre.ie, 55 per cent of Irish SMEs are now investing in their online presence.

“These investments have borne fruit with 78 per cent of those who invested recording sales at a level comparable or greater to those seen before the pandemic,” Higgins said.

Throughout the pandemic and its attendant lockdown, retailers pursued an omnichannel model, but the real test will come with the reopening of bricks-and-mortar premises as this will be the first opportunity for many to run their traditional and digital operations together.

For Higgins this will prove both a test and a positive path forward.

“One key aspect is that they can be truly omnichannel, offering for instance, click-and-collect services which eliminates waiting times and delivery costs for consumers, making the product on offer potentially more attractive than that from an external competitor,” she said.

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