Internet shopping set to rise but not for most retailers

Sir Richard Branson knows a thing or two about business. Whether you like him or not, you can’t deny that overall his business activities have been rather successful. So this week we hear that he has sold his Virgin Megastores chain in a management buyout that involves taking the Virgin brand name off the High Street.

Perhaps his savvy way of doing business is one step ahead of the game. After all, bricks and mortar record stores are under increasing threat from online stores offering downloads of MP3s. Has Sir Richard got out while the going is good? It is interesting that the Virgin record business started as a mail order operation and now the modern equivalent of mail order – online shopping – is affecting the entire entertainment industry.

Luckily, it seems, for many former High Street retailers, the Internet is coming to the rescue. Indeed, Internet retailers are sure that the coming year will be an even greater success. However, the shop owners are concerned that shoppers are becoming more aware of price comparison sites and social networking sites which help them decide on what to buy. However, look at their response to the situation.

Online retailers are going to focus on – you guessed it – design. Help! A few years ago, Marks & Spencer was in trouble. It’s sales were falling, its shares were tumbling and it was threatened by a takeover bid. The response? Redesign of the stores. Millions of pounds were spent and guess what – it had almost no impact. Shoppers were not staying away because they didn’t like the store layout or the visual impact of the shops. No, they stayed away because Marks & Spencer wasn’t selling what they wanted.

It’s the same online. Internet shoppers are only marginally influenced by the design and layout of your online store. Concentrating on design as a response to the “threat” of comparison sites and social networking discussions is the wrong thing to do. Instead, Internet retailers should be focusing on their customers and what they want to buy and why they want to purchase those things.

Happily, if big companies think that online retail will be rescued by redesign, it leaves the door wide open for independent Internet marketers to focus on customers and make money from them.

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