Blog: World Retail Congress 2013: E-commerce a key piece of the successful retail formula

Michelle Russell | 11 October 2013

As global speakers took to the podiums over the two and a half days of the World Retail Congress in Paris, one subject reoccurred, time and again: e-commerce and the evolution of digital.

The subject is one that most in the industry will be more than familiar with, but speakers this year were keen to drive home the importance retailers should place on having a presence in this channel if they are to survive and keep ahead of the game.

According to a report presented by the World Retail Congress, almost two thirds of 150 senior retailers surveyed said they believed internet sales had become more important in the last 12 months.

And indeed this certainly appeared to be the case for those speaking at the Congress in Paris this week. Leading retailers spoke either of their already well-established e-commerce operations or their efforts to build such a presence.

Tony Stockil, CEO of Javelin Group, was also keen to drill home the importance of having a digital presence to delegates to the conference this week when he told retailers they must embrace online "or perish".

He stressed how it had become "critical" for retailers to have an online presence, which he suggested was important not just to boost sales but to drive traffic into stores.

"The incentives for retailers to transform themselves or perish is becoming more important."

Ocado CEO Tim Steiner, however, offered a different view on the subject. As a pure online retailer, he was keen to point out the "long-term headache" the rapid increase of online shopping will cause for bricks-and-mortar retailers. The digital channel, he suggested to delegates, will eat into sales within stores.

This view, however, is in contrast to results from the survey, which revealed that consumers put bricks-and-mortar stores as their "most important" channel. More than half (55%) of those surveyed planned to increase the number of their international stores, with one in three set to increase their overall store footprint.

Maybe Danish retailer Dansk Supermarked has the formula right. The results appear to fit with the strategy the group has in place to revitalise its top and bottom line. CEO Per Bank was keen to emphasise this week that the grocer was not ready to abandon its flailing hypermarket operations just yet, with a turnaround plan currently in place that he hopes will revive the format for group.

So while retailers scramble to invest in their online present in order to keep apace with evolving shopper habits, it appears they may do well to bear in mind that covering all bases may be key to growth in the long term.

Click here to read just-food's coverage of the World Retail Congress in Paris.

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