There is plenty of talk about how high street business is being killed by ecommerce, combined with the economic recession. And in many towns and cities, boarded-up windows and closing-down sales have become commonplace.

So is this the end of bricks-and-mortar business as we know it? Considering the weakness of consumer spending power and the convenience of online shopping, what can small-to-medium retail businesses do to reverse their fortunes?

I think they must learn to ride the ecommerce wave.

The Bottom Line

Recent figures on the high street aren’t looking too great:

  • PWC and the Local Data Company surveyed 500 town centres and found the major retail chains shut an average of 20 shops a day in 2012

  • Four out of ten shops will shut in the next five years, says IT consultancy Deloitte

  • According to the Javelin Group, the share captured by e-commerce will grow from 14% to 34% of retail sales by 2020

  • 85% of UK consumers aged 18 or over already shop on the internet

How ‘bricks-and-mortar’ businesses can beat the decline

Small to medium businesses must embrace the rise of e-commerce, rather than resisting it. I believe creating a seamless multi-channel strategy is the only pragmatic approach to survival.

1. Get Active on Social Media

The role of social platforms in e-commerce is predicted to become of vital importance to retailers in the future as they integrate their products fully onto their social media platforms.

Social media offers these distinct advantages for retailers:

  • Online word-of-mouth; perfect for small niche retailers to get their message out. Remember, 45% of consumers use social media to recommend products

  • The ability to talk to consumers ‘directly’ and informally to create goodwill, plus create an image of a company that listens and immediately reacts to consumer feedback

  • The ability to tailor consumer experience brand to a users’ interests and tastes.

shutterstock_1267622212. Switch on to Mobile

Mobile devices open up a huge array of possibilities for engaging with consumers:


Apps that allow customers to scan each product they pick up, saving the consumer time and allowing them to see exactly what they are spending. According to Deloitte, 36% of consumers would find the ability to scan product barcodes and access product information in-store very desirable.

Next Generation Loyalty ‘Cards’

Scanning apps also offer the potential for the next generation in loyalty cards as the app can track exactly what the consumer is buying and deliver special promotions on the fly, without the need to put vouchers in the post.


Some software can even push special-offer notifications to the consumer’s mobile if they are near the store, snaring their interest with targeted promotions to encourage them to visit and make impulse purchases.

3. Help them shop online!

Offering free wifi for consumers in-store can have profound benefits. At the high-tech end, you can track which competitors consumers are comparing you with online. You can also collect their email details as they sign into the wifi system.

More simply, offering wifi to customers will keep them in-store for longer, increasing the potential for impulse purchases. The upfront cost of implementing a free wifi policy could pay dividends in the long term.

4. Stay up-to-date with technology

New platforms and services are always coming being released, and it’s imperative to stay informed about any innovations that could aid your retail strategy.

One extreme example: Tesco has installed ‘virtual walls’ in South Korean subways where commuters can quickly order their groceries by scanning in QR codes.

For smaller retailers, QR codes can still be an advanced but cost-effective way to provide customers with extra product or price information in-store.

Amazon5. Exploit existing ecommerce platforms

Many retailers discount eBay as a platform for consumer-to-consumer sales. Similarly, Amazon is often thought of as a closed-shop, crushing competitors both on- and offline.

However, both are open to third parties, and offer access to a large user base, mobile and payment gateway integration. Ebay and Amazon Integration Guide explains how exactly businesses can tap into these existing platforms to boost their own sales.