Antwerp, 30 March 2017. What impact is e-commerce having on retailers? This was the question that HR service provider, SD Worx, put to almost five hundred retailers with fifty to thousands of employees in Belgium, Germany, France, Britain and the Netherlands. The survey reveals that two out of three businesses have readily embraced e-commerce, albeit quite recently: 70% of retailers did so only in the last five years. Six out of ten respondents are convinced that those who do not invest in e-commerce, will ultimately run into difficulties.
E-commerce has experienced strong growth in recent years, resulting in numerous challenges for the retail sector. Retailers do seem to recognise the importance of e-commerce. Nevertheless, they’re slower to switch to the new technology than their customers.
The sample reveals that 62% of retailers have an online shop. Clothes and shoe shops are the pioneers, whilst DIY retailers barely make use of e-commerce at all. Compared to Belgium, France, Britain and Germany, the Netherlands is a trailblazer: indeed, more than 76% of Dutch retailers boast an online shop. In contrast, only half (52%) of Belgian retailers have an online shop. Of the countries surveyed, France scored even lower, with 48%.
Online shops remain insufficiently mobile: only 31% are specifically adapted for smartphones. Out of all the countries combined, an average of one in five retailers boast a dedicated app for their online shop (21%). There are significant differences between the countries: Belgian retailers are clearly in the minority here (9%), whilst the British take the lead (30% have a dedicated app).
Retailers witness a positive impact of e-commerce on sales and almost three out of four (70%) expect further growth. More than 60% believe that those not investing in e-commerce, will run into problems. Whilst the traditional retail sector might feel increased competition from large e-commerce stores, shopping in a physical store remains important for customers. The majority of retailers are convinced that the combination of a physical store with an online presence is crucial to remaining successful in the future.
Dieter Messner, General Manager Europe bij Esprit: ‘At Esprit, we strongly believe in an Omni Channel strategy where online and offline merge and where it’s all about the consumer’s experience and needs. In Belgium and The Netherlands, around 80% of our stores are Omni channel operational, offering services such as Click & Collect and Click & Reserve. By the end of this season, almost all our BNL stores will be on board. It turns out to be a success. In Belgium, the results are even beyond expectations. 15 Years ago, we were already selling online, so we’ve build quite some experience on this level. Nevertheless, Esprit keeps investing in physical stores and in training our staff to deliver an excellent service. In the end, it’s all about the consumer.’
Retail expert at SD Worx, Peter Van Ostaeyen, does not believe that a thriving e-commerce industry will have a detrimental effect on employment in the retail sector. “Employment might decline due to e-commerce in certain segments, such as small retail outlets. In contrast, other segments, such as new online chains and flagship stores, will actually require more people. We’re therefore talking about a shift in employment. Don’t forget that e-commerce also creates a number of jobs in logistics, such as warehousing and distribution. Retailers that bet on an omni-channel strategy and merge online and offline customer experience will triumph. Physical and online stores complement each other and intensify customer experience. Our sample indicates that only 60% of the retailers surveyed apply such an omni-channel strategy. So, there’s still a long way to go.”
The savvy deployment of personnel is another challenge for retailers. Not surprisingly, online sales rise sharply in November and December. In Europe, they increased by 25% over the festive season. “Retailers can make huge efficiency gains through flexibly deploying staff as and where they’re needed. Big data analysis enables them to accurately predict where and when pressures will arise, ultimately providing the customer with an even better service,” says Protime CEO, Peter S'Jongers.