Where does Internet Retail Go for the Small Retailer Now?

As a casual observer and advisor to several small business who retail their wares over the Internet, this year has thrown up a few interesting thoughts that might point to the future of Internet retail for the small “shopkeeper”.

This year has already been tough on the high street, with household names as obvious casualties. Mary Portas’ recent review was perhaps a combination of “statin’ the bleedin’ obvious” combined with some less sensible ideas (Bingo? Seriously?).

But the dramatic reduction in business on the high street has not immediately translated into a boom in sales for the small retailer in the Internet retail world. A drop in sales in the high street, has anecdotally in my case, been reflected by a drop in sales online for small retailers.

This posting does not discuss the issues faced by large household names online, many of whom have seen a dramatic rise in people moving to a different channel – in particular shoppers who purchase across many different channels. In this area, one has to look at the rise in click-and-collect services made available by household name retailers and brands. But that’s a story for another posting entirely.

Casual observation of a number of small internet retailers (family operations on the whole) seems to point to a couple of things that are having a serious effect and produce difficult decisions about the 2012 trading year.

The Amazon Effect – Amazon has become the long-tail retailer of choice for many, and it’s possible to buy almost anything there.

The eBay Factor – As people become price-conscious, the apparent (yet flawed) view that eBay is where you can buy things cheaper than elsewhere, means that it’s the first point of call for many shoppers rather than using something like Google Shopping.

These two massive players have one thing in common – they have open marketplaces. It’s possible to ride on the luxurious search engine advantages of either and host one’s own business within their marketplace listings. Plenty of small businesses now pop up in Amazon as the supplier. eBay relies on eBay shops rather than just the C2C auction business. eBay isn’t the cheapest in many cases. Neither is Amazon, but both brands have a high level of trust amongst consumers. For many eCommerce/Internet retail is either Amazon or eBay, in the same way that Facebook has become the Internet for millions of people.

Anecdotally I’ve seen sales and traffic slump on dedicated eCommerce sites whilst I’ve seen a dramatic rise in sales through eBay and Amazon for small retailers. This has stark consequences for channel maintenance in 2012 – is it worth keeping a dedicated hosted Internet retail business or is it better to move the business into Amazon and onto eBay?

My view is that 2012 will be a difficult year for dedicated eCommerce Retail hosting services as many of their retail customers simply end hosting contracts and focus on the 2 channels that bring them all their business.

It will however be a good year for people who can customize eBay stores. Coding hats on!

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Christmas 2011 and Giving

<Places humbug hat on head> It’s at this time of year all the Christmas cards start flooding in from people I know professionally and personally (including readers of this blog and Twitter followers).

I’m delighted to receive them, but if you’re expecting one from me please don’t be disappointed or unhappy if you don’t receive one. I don’t send Christmas cards to family, friends or colleagues. Arguably I’m a scrooge but I have a good reason not to do so. Rather than spend money sending cards to people, I give the money I would have spend on cards and stamps to the British Heart Foundation.

In 2005 my dad died suddenly, and very unexpectedly, from a massive heart attack. He was only 59. He was a very fit man, lean and healthy, and having had some good fortune was able to stop working in his early 50s. He worked some land he acquired in France growing fresh veg and fruit off which he pretty much lived – fine healthy food, great lifestyle – all that was correct. He’d been pronounced 100% fit 2 weeks before he died during his annual health assessment with his GP. The doctor on hearing of his death was astounded and could not believe it.

So he died of an unknown, undetectable, genetic heart condition. And that needs finding out and eradicating. It’s one thing to extend people’s lives but other people are dying too early. So I need to help to stop this. If you want to give too, you can do here.

Happy Christmas to you all. In the real world, I’ll see some of you and share a beer. In the virtual world I’ll speak to you too (maybe less beer) – a tweet, a Facebook conversation (hey I’ll go mad and do a Google+). Much better than a card. And much more personal.

Living with a Nokia Lumia 800 (or “Life after an iPhone”)

After having had an iPhone through many generations from the very start, my latest phone upgrade proved to be a challenge. Instinctively, like any Apple fanboi, you would expect that I would have simply gone to the iPhone 4S. But something irked me on this upgrade. I thought about the Samsung Galaxy Note, but something about the Nokia was calling me – it just seemed that bit more special.

So I’ve opted for the Nokia. It’s a Windows Mobile 7 device, which is supposed to save Nokia from destruction.

Having had it for 3 days and used it to the hilt, what do I think?

1. Battery life: it stinks – it’s almost as bad as an iPhone. But there lies the crux of the issue. It’s almost as bad as an iPhone, not as bad as an iPhone. I have to do the same things to make the battery last that I do with an iPhone. Turn off all the push services, turn off 3G (you can’t do that with an iPhone on Three – you’re trapped on 3G – but you can on a Nokia), set settings for minimal battery use. So actually the challenge goes back out to all phone manufacturers – make a phone that can use all its features for an entire day without dying. I was particularly sad that Nokia hadn’t achieved this – I remember my E61 lasting days and days on 3G. Nokia say an update coming this month will considerably improve battery life.

2. Windows Mobile experience – within minutes of starting up my entire online life was integrated. I could not believe the speed of access to my cloud data such as contacts. This is much more integrated and seamless compared to the iPhone. And the whole thing is very, very fast

3. Onboard apps – take a bit of getting use to as you’re relearning a way of working but I really like the simple clutter-free view of a lot of information.

4. Call quality – knocks iPhone into a cocked hat

5. Apps Marketplace – clearly not as a well developed as iPhone Appstore yet, but the key apps are there for me: 4square, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Train information etc….. but the built in access to a whole raft of services almost renders some of these unnecessary thought not quite. From a games perspective, it’s clear the XBox service is attracting developers. The KPI of Angry Birds being there has been clearly met.

6. Interface – part of experience I guess but it make IOS look a bit old fashioned now. The screen is beautiful.

Not sure what I miss from IOS yet. It certainly isn’t a problem having split away from “The Tribe”. More soon.