Encouraging shoppers to keep coming back for more is the key to success on the internet

Retail has experienced an unprecedented pace of change over the past few years, driven by the online revolution. It’s staggering to think that, less than 10 years ago, the internet was just starting to play a part in our lives, albeit through laboriously slow downloads.

Many sceptics said that nobody would ever buy anything other than books or music through this medium because of low-resolution imagery, resulting in vague product detail – how things have changed.

With broadband now readily available (accessed by more than 60 per cent of UK households), content is becoming richer, imagery clearer and the speed at which products appear, faster all the time. Broadband really has reinvigorated home shopping and, at the same time, created challenges for the UK’s high street retailers.

Littlewoods is ideally placed to take advantage of the online revolution with the infrastructure in place to
produce catalogues and web sites, pick single and multiple products and, of course, deliver to the door rather than the loading bay of a store.

But, like all remote retailers, our challenge is to encourage repeat visits. Without natural footfall generated from a high street, it’s important that we keep ourselves at the front of customers’ minds.

To achieve this, we produce both catalogues and web sites. It’s no coincidence that many pure-play e-tailers have adopted the same approach. But it’s difficult for some of the smaller e-tailers to stay at the front of customers’ minds with a limited marketing budget.

Without the benefit of a household name, the struggle is insurmountable for many. You only have to look at how many home shopping businesses of scale exist in the UK today; you can count on one hand those with turnovers greater than£500 million.

To encourage customers to come back, web sites need to be “sticky”. The advent of broadband has helped enormously, allowing functionality to be added to the selling side of a web site. At Littlewoods, we’ve introduced zoom functionality, product comparison, whole-outfit purchases and we’ve streamed more than 1,000 catwalk videos to really bring fashion to life. The next step will be web 2.0 functionality, meaning that the content can become even richer, enhancing the customer’s experience further.

It’s all well and good having a slick web site with great functionality and a well-presented catalogue to support, but it’s no good if your products and service disappoint. Products have to live up to expectation in terms of quality, style and value. Service has to be accurate and on time.

Finally, how big will this online shopping phenomenon become? Today, turnover stands at£9 billion. The popular forecasts suggest it will be above£20 billion in three years. Whether that prediction comes true remains to be seen, but this is a consumer-led revolution and it’s here to stay.