‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ would have been unfamiliar to most in the UK up until very recently. Now the terms are making front page headlines complete with images of seemingly deranged shoppers stampeding through high street stores in search of a bargain. For the uninitiated ‘Black Friday’ is the term for the Friday after Thanksgiving Day in the US and marks the start of the Christmas season. ‘Cyber Monday’ is the Monday after Black Friday and is the key calendar date for online sales.
Cyber Monday 2014
The UK Cyber Monday figures in December 2014 were staggering, with UK consumers spending £650m on that day alone – up from £450m on the previous year. Cyber Monday originally started as a marketing exercise in 2005 by small niche US online retailers who were trying to encourage consumers to spend some of their xmas budget online. Fast forward eight years and online retail is now an integral part of how major retailers attract sales. Over the last five years in particular, many retailers have invested in user-friendly websites, fast order fulfilment systems and technology to support consumers to shop at their convenience.
Online Retailing Operations
But it’s not just the big high street brands that have succeeded through ecommerce. Many small retailers across Northern Ireland have invested in ecommerce marketing and sales operations. Belfast-based jewellery retailer Argento has combined an expanding retail network with strong ecommerce sales. In 2012 they invested £500,000 in order to increase online market share and enhance customers’ in-store shopping experience.
Some smaller family businesses have also taken the gamble on restructuring the business to take advantage of the boom in online sales. In the case of Monaghan-based Brix Workwear, the business successfully embraced rapidly-changing media and retail habits in order to survive. The family-run small business was trading successfully from their retail store up until 2009 when the double impact of fast-rising online sales and the effect of the recession had a hugely negative impact on their sale. At that time, Brix Workwear were at a major crossroads and realised they needed to start doing business very differently. One of the opportunities for them was to start selling online. After researching the burgeoning market online, they took the decision to turn their backs on the old economy and embrace the new. The business now sells successfully online through a variety of sites including its own ecommerce site and via third-party retailers including Amazon and Ebay.
Changing consumer habits are forcing local small business to market and sell in new ways, especially online. However for some local retailers it’s too late. Belfast city centre has witnessed a number of high profile retail failures over the past 12 months. While ill-informed local politicians call for more government intervention to prop up local high street retailers, much of the blame for retail failure lies with the small business owners who didn’t seize the opportunities to adapt their business models to including selling effectively online.
A lot of the time many business owners are put off by the fear that ecommerce ‘is too complicated’ or a fear of changing their very traditional business model. But with the rising trend in online shopping, most small retail businesses require an effective ecommerce operation. And if the current economic contraction shows us anything, it’s that local retailers need to respond rapidly to the opportunities in ecommerce and adapt how they market and sell their goods.