British retailers wasting e-commerce opportunities

No sign of virtual high street

British retailers aren’t doing enough to set up shop on the Internet and are threatening the development of e-commerce in the UK. Unless they start developing Web sites and building similar levels of brand loyalty on the Web, as they have on the high street, they're in danger of missing out on a market that could be worth £3.1 billion in 2003. In particular, US companies pose a serious threat. Companies such as online bookstore Amazon and stockbroker Schwab have showed how they can bring their experience from the more advanced US market over to the UK and compete in the marketplace for a fraction of the cost of establishing a chain of retail outlets. The warning comes in a report by Fletcher Research which concludes that online shopping has barely begin to take off in the UK. But Len Griffin of the Alliance of Independent Retailers, which represents 27,500 retailers in the UK, said that for the most part, "the Net is no help at all." "It's appallingly difficult to retail anything on the Net and while it's fine for certain goods, you can't exactly buy a pint of milk and a box of Cornflakes, can you?" he said. Griffin's traditional take on retailing -- which in his view is simply about getting goods from manufacturers to consumers -- is of no surprise to Benjamin Ensor, author of Window Shopping?. He says that retailers in the UK must realise that the rules change when they sell online and that they have to develop new ways of building relationships with customers. Ensor also estimates that the total online sales, excluding financial services, were around £230 million last year -- less than 0.2 per cent of the total retail market in the UK. What's more, he concludes that only 12 per cent of users in the UK are active online shoppers. ®

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