Tired of all that spam? Not the come-on to porn or anatomy enhancement sort, everyone’s tired of that and most of it goes in the spam bin anyway; no, I mean the ‘legit’ sort, you bought a shirt from someone in 2002 and you’re still on their newsletter distribution list. Yes, that sort – the semi-legit, by people who will actually deliver products.
The thing is, you’re arguably not getting the amount you should. And that’s for a simple reason: according to data published by the European Commission’s Digital Agenda team, only 14% of British business is selling online. Compare and contrast this with the 71% of us who actually buy online and you can see there’s more than a slight disconnect.
Industry commentators have of course seized on the figures. Adam Stewart, marketing director of Play.com, said in a statement: “The internet should be liberating Britain’s smaller retailers. The web is essentially a customisable shop front, requiring minimal infrastructure costs, while attracting footfall beyond the confines of the high street. You don’t need to hire a web developer to get involved either, using marketplaces like Rakuten’s Play.com, small retailers can avoid the administrative headaches of payment systems and portal set-up, and simply get products quickly to market… Ultimately, we’re living in a world where digital presence increasingly validates the physical world and all businesses need to respond or be left behind.”
Yes of course you can hear the vested interests rattling a mile away, but he has a point. Nonetheless it does offer the UK a number of opportunities. If we were starting off again, with small businesses coming to e-commerce for the first time (and they might as well be if only 17% of them have bothered), a op-five wish list might look like this:
- Checkouts that look like proper checkouts after a well-spelled site. My wife recently bought some clothes for our daughter from a small e-tailer – but only after phoning up to check the site was genuine, it looked so shoddy. Even if there’s only one of you, get a friend to look it over.
- No newsletters. Look, I know every consultant and every how-to guide tells you to send out a newsletter but how many do you subscribe to and how many do you actually read? There now, see the difference? THEY JUST GET DELETED, YOU COULD BE DOING SOMETHING MORE PRODUCTIVE.
- Proper contact details as well as how to opt out of cookies on every e-commerce site. Yes I know this is already law but according to Prism Total IT Support this week, 90% of business owners are ignoring at least the cookie part of the law.
- Web-only promotions that really are special deals. Yes, certain shirt companies, we know you offer four shirts for £100, but please stop telling us this is a special deal when it’s in all your shop windows all year round. We’re not children, we know when a deal’s pretty ordinary and if you want to promote it as good value just say so.
- Alternative ways to pay. Yes, you believe your checkout is secure and foolproof but if I happen to be a bit concerned about a new site, however unreasonably, the PayPal logo will probably overcome any reservations and rescue the sale.
Some of these are probably pipe dreams. There is no co-ordinating body saying who may and who may not sell electronically and no standardized way to do it. But getting a few of those things right, while we’re so obviously still at the beginning of everybody selling online, would be good.
Declaration: In the interests of full transparency I should mention I have recently undertaken some corporate work for Play.com’s parent company, Rakuten. This has not influenced their coverage in this article.