The snow in Scotland has highlighted the vulnerability of online retail
According to ONS data out this morning, online retail now accounts for 10.5% of sales, but events this week north of the border show how fragile online retail distribution networks remain, and how fulfilment remains the key challenge for the web.
Scottish transport minister Keith Brown was quick to hit out at those retailers which stopped taking online orders - conveniently forgetting that if he’d done his job of keeping the roads open then they’d still be taking them - but it is striking that while retailers’ sophisticated supply chains have managed to keep stores well-stocked through even the worst of the snow, systems for the fulfilment of web orders seem to fall apart as soon as things take a turn for the worse.
Retailers which have stopped taking non-food orders in Scotland are playing it safe, influenced no doubt by the forecasts of more adverse weather to come. That makes sense because no retailer wants to make promises to customers it can’t keep, especially at this time of year.
But the success of online retail over the past few years has been all about giving customers confidence in its reliability and that the goods will be delivered. Whether its the fault of the politicians, the retailers or the delivery industry, the fact that bad weather can effectively close large parts of the country to online retail while stores manage to remain open is a big failure. Maybe some long-awaited good news for good old-fashioned physical shops though?
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