The players in mass-market retail are now conducting exciting experiments with a view to integrating sales through their stores and on-line. Retailers have to cope with two factors they had not anticipated:
- The strong growth of e-commerce - and its relative tardiness: for instance, e-commerce represents less than 2% of Walmart sales in the U. S.
- Direct competition from "pure players" such as Amazon and eBay
- Amazon, now the largest on-line store (with an annual growth rate of about 30%!), is a direct competitor, with an offer that extends even to fresh products.
- eBay has just launched a unique m-commerce initiative: showcases displaying products flanked by QR-codes have just been inaugurated in New York. The CEO of eBay says: "Retail and e-commerce are becoming one. Consumers don't make a distinction between the two".
It is worth keeping track of the initiatives taken by Walmart and Tesco:
- Walmart has just opened two pop-up stores in Californian shopping malls (100m2 and 300m2). These temporary boutiques have been opened under the walmart.com banner: here consumers may either collect the orders they placed on the Internet, or discover a range of products with high added-value (toys, communication devices, computers, video games ..) and order them on the spot.
- Tesco is experimenting with a virtual store in the Korean metro: entire walls are covered with images of products with their prices and QR-codes, allowing consumers to shop virtually and be delivered the same day (for orders reaching before 7:00 p.m.). The results of this initiative far exceeded Tesco's expectations as shown in the following video:
Two lessons can be learnt from these various examples:
- A distributor can thus grow without creating new traditional bricks-and-mortar outlets: not hypermarkets but virtual walls or pop-up stores.
- What drives these initiatives is not e-commerce but m-commerce: the ubiquity of mobile phones and the extensive use that consumers make of these tools is a real point of contact between brands and their clients.