UK: A Future For Retailing?

Last Updated: 12 August 1998
Retail Futures develops profitable new business channels through eCommerce

Infinitely less expensive than hiring a professional 'think tank', the High Street bookshop provides an accurate pointer to the way we think, the way we entertain ourselves and the way we conduct business. Trends in key areas of everyday life are reflected by the growth in the number of books on a given subject, and the number of new books is in turn reflected in the shelf space allocated. On that criterion, the Internet is assuming enormous proportions in the mindset of the nation. Where once there were just a few books on the Internet of Acadæme, the 'serious' booksellers carry perhaps a dozen shelves on every aspect of the Internet.

As a direct consequence of the literature is created a plethora of 'experts'; the instant pundits whose five page lead over their neighbours gives them the ability to tell the rest of the world about the Internet and its benefits.

Turning that theoretical knowledge into profitable business practice is a very different matter, however, As those 'experts' will discover to their cost - or, more precisely, to the cost of their companies - creating a successful commercial environment over the Internet or any other digital environment requires a great deal of planning, careful analysis and experience of business, rather than just IT or communications.

It is that experience of implementing electronic commerce solutions in the real world that Retail Futures would claim it is bringing to the marketplace.

A professional career researching and developing solutions for a high-profile retail and catalogue company has given the MD of this specialised UK operation a comprehensive view of the issues involved.

John Andrews saw an opportunity to develop profitable global electronic businesses for large and small manufacturers wishing to sell their goods and services globally through this emerging channel. The marketplace which Retail Futures is addressing extends beyond the retailers who could be expected to take up electronic commerce. "Manufacturers see the case for dealing directly with their customer base over the Internet as it reduces the cost of distribution dramatically." A committed advocate of eCommerce solutions, Andrews is demonstrating his commitment by setting up and operating a series of global on-line shopping malls.

At a technical level, Retail Futures is refining its clients' ability to deliver high bandwidth traffic into the Internet backbone as part of a seamless relationship between retailer and customer.

The communications technology is a relatively small part of the total picture, it would appear. How do businesses adapt to the unique circumstances of trading without borders? Can they cope with providing a response 24 hours a day? How would they resource the delivery of goods ordered by a customer in Moscow? As John Andrews observed, before any business can even consider electronic commerce as a route to market, it has to answer that kind of logistical question.

That situation is not hypothetical. If a trader in the UK is selling to his Moscow customer, it has to be agreed where such a product is being supplied from so that it can be configured to the correct specification.

One option would be for the manufacturer to part-assemble and only configure a product when an order has been taken. While this process clearly has advantages, it represents a radical departure from the traditional methods of mass-production and assembly.

Discussion of eCommerce in those terms pre-supposes, of course, that the case for an electronic trading solution can be made in the first instance. Implementations of the technology for the larger end of the retailing sector require a major investment by the company concerned in terms of finance and commitment.

The decision to create a business stream on the back of electronic trading cannot be taken lightly: it is a decision that has to be taken at the highest level within an organisation. Along that route there is the hurdle of the finance director who has to be assured of the payback period for the investment involved. This assumes that the case has already been made to the 'retailers' within the organisation, who have to be convinced that taking the business down a new channel will augment sales and profit rather than simply substitute one business stream for another.

For more information please contact:

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DataCash
Tel: +44 (0)171 820 7733
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