Now five years into the UK financial crisis, the light at the end of the tunnel is still very faint for most but one area of sustained growth during this period has been the Ecommerce sector, now accounting for almost 10% of all UK retail sales. John Lewis reported online sales were up by more than 40% in the run-up to Christmas compared to the same period the previous year, online now accounts for more than 25% of their total sales. Visa also reported increases, with spending on their cards up 2.5% and online purchases using Visa up 4.4% comparatively.

December 2012 saw footfall in our shopping centres drop, the British Retail Consortium noted this was by almost 5%; as people clearly favoured the convenience of shopping at home. The trend towards online is growing, and as it does, the need for websites to operate a robust and efficient back-office is even more critical to cope with increasing order levels. Businesses that are focussed on Ecommerce need to have a good infrastructure – it’s essential, from sales generation and order-taking right through to warehouse management and after-sales care. Customers who buy online have a greater freedom to shop around, their loyalty is vital to an online retailer looking to grow.

Customers buying online have different expectations to those entering a physical retailer. When buying in a shop you have the obvious tactile benefit, but most importantly you interact with a sales person and leave with your purchase. Online is different, trust is critical and after-sales communication is key to a smooth transaction. There is no more crucial a time for businesses selling online than getting it right at Christmas; managing customer expectations is vital.

Christmas is a very testing time for any business that relies on strong seasonal sales and failure to meet demand and delivery can have a negative reputational impact. According to IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group), failed online deliveries cost the UK retail sector over £850million last year and with parcel couriers busier than ever - UK Mail volumes rose by more than 20% in 2012 to cope with growing online demand, retail success in real terms is dependent upon the systems that online businesses have in place.

2013 looks set to be another prosperous year for the online retail sector. Ecommerce presents an opportunity for businesses of all sizes to compete for the estimated £90billion that will be spent through websites this year. There has never been a greater opportunity for small businesses to grow.

Ascensor specialise in developing ecommerce websites for customers in Leeds and London.

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