How can analogue booksellers create sales opportunities in a digital world?

In June of 2014, Greg Randall will be speaking at the Annual Booksellers conference on digital strategy and how small retailers can realise their true potential through the proper utilisation of digital channels.

Booksellers is a network of over 100 Retailer Bookstores around New Zealand.

In order to set the tone for the presentation, Megan Dunn interviewed Greg and posted it on the Booksellers site.

Though this interview was written for Book retailers in mind, the points and guidance in this interview translates to all small retailers and is why Greg thought it would be a good idea to post it on the Comma Blog.

“NZ and Australia is still the Wild West,” Randall says. “If you were to compare the typical business owner in terms of digital savviness here to the UK, you could say that we are a caveman and the other guy is flying around in a space suit.”

The late adoption of digital is, in part, a consequence of New Zealand and Australia’s relative geographic isolation. Randall notes that large retailers have been used to having a firm grip on the New Zealand consumer, but market share is no longer driven by retailers with the biggest marketing spend.

In 2012, Price Waterhouse Coopers released a document on the NZ and Australian shopping market that listed the total spend of NZ customers on International websites as 1.12 billion dollars; international website sales comprised 35% of total online sales in NZ. The consumer is now in control of their own buying behaviour.

‘The best advice I give to smaller businesses is not to over-engineer the plan too early. It needs to be simple and organic.’

Randall understands the challenges of running a bricks and mortar store. He “grew up in retail” working Christmases behind the tills in his parents home decorating shop.

Randall describes current business as a ‘digital bodyguard’. As a consultant, he hears horror stories every day from clients who’ve been exploited by digital vendors like SEO (search engine optimisation) companies and boutique advertising agencies. “I wanted to be the good guy in the industry.”

Randall has extensive experience working with many diverse retailers to help grow their digital channels, from The Mad Butcher and the Bike Barn to Radius Pharmacy.

‘If anything, brands have more to lose because there are expectations. I still think that some of the best models to succeed in digital are those retailers who have one or two stores. The benefits of being tiny are that you’re nimble. And you can change on the fly.’

This is good news for booksellers. At conference, Randall’s talk will be relevant to members who have not yet started a website, as well as to members who have an existing website, but want to increase sales and online effectiveness.

Randall says that there are now good free technologies available for members starting out in eCommerce and cites the Shopify website as an example.

So what are the common mistakes retailers make?

‘The biggies are investing too much in the eCommerce technology out the gate... and partnering with the wrong marketing companies. Building a store is one thing, putting it live on the internet is like opening a physical store in the desert.’

The two fundamental areas that members need to consider with regards to their store websites are . Regardless of brand and how big a store is, these points are important for everybody.

‘Usability is the ability for people to find what they are looking for as quickly as possible. User experience is the experience or the positive elements of the design and the content that made me enjoy my journey from A to B.’

At conference Randall will talk about the distinction: ‘The challenge of a good website is the intermingling of the two to deliver both.’

Combining art and science is at the essence of Comma Consulting’s approach. Many NZ and Australian businesses don’t have the data to learn about their eCommerce businesses. This is one of the keys to improving the ‘acquisition’ and ‘retention’ of customers online.

‘This is part of that art again.” Randall says, “Clients need to have the data and the information to understand how people want to buy from them. One of the biggest reasons why (the amount of people who actually make a purchase online) are around 2% is because websites are selling in a manner that’s different from the way people want to buy.’

But Randall says; ‘People prefer, deep down, to shop local.’

The main competition for bricks and mortar booksellers in NZ are ‘the local guys.’

‘eCommerce is a business channel and like any business channel, there’s no silver bullets, nothing happens overnight,’ he cautions.

Randall recommends a process of iterative growing and learning. It’s also important for stores to dedicate resource towards their websites. A part-time person can result in part-time love and a slower learning curve.

‘It’s all or nothing,’ Randall says. ‘You’re not going to open a second store if you’re tentative about the location, the investment and the staffing. The website needs to be thought about in the same way. It’s another store.’

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This article was as tagged as Digital Strategy , Ecommerce , Usability , User Experience

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