Online retail offers almost endless opportunities for small businesses to grow their customer base. While the landscape may appear to be dominated by major players like Amazon or Tesco, millions of independent retailers have found success establishing themselves in this lucrative market.
Some have increased sales by running an eCommerce site alongside their bricks-and-mortar store, while others have made the switch to online-only to reduce costs. On top of this, there are millions of online sellers who trade in everything from handmade artisan goods to clothes and electronics imported from the Far East.
Clearly, online retail has created a more level playing field, enabling small companies to become more competitive. At the same time, it is important to remember that customer expectations remain broadly the same, no matter what size the retailer is, where it is based or how long it has been operating.
As a minimum, retailers need to ensure the buyer receives the right parcel, with all goods undamaged, as quickly and professionally as possible. This can, however, put enormous pressure on independent retailers, especially when the orders flood in.
Where margins are tight, there is no room to get it wrong. Processing returns is expensive for any business, but large operators are better placed to subsume this cost. While all retailers feel the pinch, it could be particularly damaging to those who import goods directly to customers via an Amazon fulfilment centre because the fees can rapidly mount up.
Just as in other areas of life, automation software is now being used to remove the scope for error and increase efficiencies. In developing our own solution, Khaos Control Cloud, we wanted to remove as many manual processes as possible so that thousands of orders to be processed quickly and correctly.
Much of this comes down to the system’s integrated courier solutions, which enable retailers to print labels and choose their preferred delivery company at the click of a button. As it is a cloud-based system, retailers can access the service from wherever they are based and on whatever device they want, helping them to better manage their time. Alongside this, we are just about to introduce a new feature to generate Royal Mail Barcode Labels, enabling retailers to benefit from tracking their Royal Mail packages.
Automation helps to keep costs down in other ways too, as our long-standing client International Dance Supplies (IDS) has found. In shipping to buyers around the world, returns can be costly if the correct labels are not used. Even something as simple as a customer not marking the package as a ‘return’ could leave the firm having to pay additional costs, in the form of import duty, but automated labeling helps to limit this.
Online retail is continuing to grow as an ever-increasing pace, opening up doors for businesses that may once have struggled to establish themselves on the high street. At the same time, the market has never been more competitive and those who fail to deliver will simply fade away. Ultimately, success depends on a retailer’s ability to establish robust processes and harness automation technology to make best use of resources and provide the professional service customers now demand.