ONE in six online retailers in the UK plans to expand into store premises during 2014, according to a survey published yesterday.
As growing numbers of businesses turn to the digital world to boost sales and promote themselves, the poll of small and medium enterprises (SME) found 16 per cent of online retailers were planning to open a store or seek space in an existing one.
Another 15 per cent of the e-retailers said they were going to expand in online marketplaces to boost sales and a total of 40 per cent of those surveyed said they would trade from new channels in the coming 12 months.
The annual study from the Royal Mail found more than half were confident that sales would rise in 2014, but that was down from 64 per cent predicting growth a year ago.
Nick Landon, managing director of Royal Mail Parcels, said: ““UK SME online retailers are thinking carefully about how they can develop their businesses during 2014. They are concentrating on exploiting as many channels to market as possible, adding space in physical premises and online marketplace listings to complement their existing web channel. In addition, they are concentrating on how to price competitively while increasing the range and quality of their goods.”
Experts have previously warned that online businesses are threatening UK high streets and town centres as more consumers opt to order via a computer both for convenience and the best available deals.
Cathy Barnes, professor of retail innovation at Leeds Metropolitan University, said consumers would increasingly find a “seamless experience” between shopping in the high street and online.
Digital shops will move towards having a physical presence while traditional stores will push more traffic online.
She said: “There is a term, ‘omnichannel retailing’, that says customers ought to be able to access your retail outlet whatever way they want to. It’s about increasing footfall to the online shop. People can go in and touch and feel but maybe you still want them to buy online.
“A lot of retailers treat their stores as showrooms..”
Results by retail giant Next yesterday showed growth in both its physical stores, and its website. Sales across Next stores leapt 7.7 per cent higher between 1 November and Christmas Eve, while revenues surged by 21 per cent in the Next Directory catalogue and online division.
Prof Barnes added: “This will work both ways. It will be more and more seemless between the two.”
Scottish Retail Consortium director David Lonsdale said: “These figures highlight how retailers of all shapes and sizes are giving more and more thought to multichannel trading and how to offer their customers diverse, flexible and convenient ways to shop.
“While we’ve seen that online retail is becoming increasingly integral to the shopper journey, a physical store presence can open up new markets.”