The mix of recent economic news is bewildering – miserable jobs growth, high gas prices, and sluggish budget talks on the one hand, yet continued growth for online retail on the other. It’s been almost three years since the economy tanked in October 2008 and yet somehow we’re nowhere near the general recovery we’d all hoped for by now.
If one can go by the tremendous creativity, pragmatism, and high level of engagement with customers evident at last week’s Shop.org Online Merchandising Workshop, however, our industry is well positioned to continue outright thriving. Online retail for the most part has continued to experience strong growth – and, so far, it’s no blip. Retailers whom we surveyed in March 2011 reported an average increase of 40% in Web sales for 2010 vs. 2009, ranging from 21% average growth for companies in operation over 10 years and 91% for companies in operation less than four years. The recent MasterCard Spending Pulse monthly report further underscores this growth track.
Perhaps, then, the last three years represent one of those “Necessity is the mother of invention” kind of periods, pushing our industry further – much further, even? – than might have been otherwise. As I took in the stories and advice during last week’s Workshop, it occurred to me what a difference three years make:
- Social media has gone from an experiment (if with some very vocal supporters) to major investment area for retailers. Even if some are still hesitant about bottom line benefits (see the 2011 State of Retailing Online: Marketing, Social Media & Mobile report published in late May), few refute its power to actively engage customers in so many ways. (See also last month’s interview with Kerry Cooper, CMO of Modcloth – and check out their site for great examples of getting their customer involved and returning.)
- Luxury goods on sale? Not so much back then, much more likely today via Gilt Groupe, ideeli, One Kings Lane, and then some, to the tune of a $1 billion in 2010 and growing, per comScore. What hasn’t changed: the element of scarcity, one of the underpinnings to the luxury industry.
- Mobile and retail in the same breath? What a quaint thought on that miniscule screen – yet here we are, with smartphone adoption growing exponentially to meet our voracious appetite for ratings and reviews, price comparison, and store info wherever we are.
- As for tablets – well, no doubt some stealthy tinkering was already going on in Cupertino, but three years ago I think most of us only knew about the paper variety. . In her keynote presentation last week, Jeanniey Mullen of Zinio noted that, scarcely a year after market entrance, tablet users are often more affluent, skew towards purchasing in the evening and/or at the weekend, and at this point spend more than the typical smartphone user.
- Particularly interesting is all that traffic from outside one’s home country that has evolved from an analytics report curiosity to potential bottom line gold mine, with retailers large and small scrambling to figure out global currency, taxes, shipping and service to tap pent up overseas demand.
All of this to say – we’ve got Back to School on our doorstep, and Holiday 2011 close behind. As Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy advised us many years ago, “Don’t panic!” – and, I’d add, stay focused, be creative, and keep the customer front and center. To help you with facts, figures and best practices, check out inspiring takeaways and tips from the 2011 Merchandising Workshop sessions, then watch in the coming weeks for our upcoming NRF / Shop.org Back-to-School / Back-to-College consumer survey results, as well as the annual Shop.org 2011 Holiday Strategy & Planning Guide.