Localized eCommerce for the smartphone generation

Smart UK shopkeepers find an easy way into online marketing

Simply Fresh is the first chain of convenience stores to adopt Cornershop Online

Smart shopkeepers with independent businesses at the heart of high-density residential areas in the UK can now sign up to a bespoke, centrally hosted eCommerce service that gives them affordable access to digital marketing platforms and the possibility of profitable new sales channels. The idea is to increase the competitiveness of individual grocery retailers whose customers are sophisticated and savvy technology users whose neighbourhoods are prime locations for the biggest supermarket chains to move into with their own brand of convenience store. Although not very different from the Amazon and Flipkart model in India which work as trading and logistics platforms for a large number of suppliers around the country, Cornershop Online champions the local grocery stores. Joanne Hunter reports.

For more than 300 years, Britain has been characterized as ‘a nation of shopkeepers.’ Small, non-affiliated independent retailers make up the largest segment in the convenience sector in terms of number, proportionately nearly 40% of all stores, and they are a resilient bunch according to the UK’s grocery retailing authority, the IGD. But every one of these small, often family-run businesses must face the fact that the smartphone generation of shoppers wants their favourite sources of food and entertainment ready to serve its every whim 24 x 7. For those businesses who want to make a huge leap in sales online, guides like FBA for beginners are available.

Strength in numbers gives the advantage to co-operatives, specialist convenience store brands and symbol groups, of which leading names are SPAR, Londis and Premier, while the estates of Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local, and others, expand on a weekly, even daily, basis. With large in-house resources they are can build relationships remotely and in-store with shoppers through their mobile devices.

But now, small businesses can help themselves protect and grow their share of the local market by creating an online presence. Cornershop Online provides the benefits of digital platforms, without the hassle of maintaining a website or any expertise in online marketing, and customers have the added convenience of placing shopping orders online. Funds to run the service are generated by the member retailers, each paying a monthly total cost of £10 (around Rs. 1,000) and a fixed nominal sum per transaction.

“More than just trading online, it is a forum where like-minded retailers can work together,” says Purdeep Haire, director of Cornershop Online. He launched the service two years ago and tells Packaging South Asia that the 600 shops already signed up and registered will become 2,500 shops by the end of 2016. “Larger groups are looking at licensing our technology,” he adds, with an early adopter being a fast-growing convenience store brand called Simply Fresh, 20% owned by the Costcutter Supermarkets Group.

A loyalty scheme has been tailored to the typical clientele. “Convenience shoppers want instant gratification or the chance of a big prize and it needs to be quick. This is where our new system is unique,” says Haire. By downloading a free app they get entered into monthly raffles with prizes such as shopping vouchers, tablets and games consoles.

The website is designed to be a go-to place for important information. This includes an EU rule that calls for retailers marketing and selling online to provide customers with correct product imagery, up to date nutritional data, allergy information and where the product is produced. Its members can tap into digital brand content through its partner company Brandbank.

Localized eCommerce for the smartphone generation 2
A free Cornershop Online app allows entry into monthly prize raffles

Meanwhile, in a separate development, at the European level an online database will soon go live to help smaller local stores comply with European Regulation 1169/2011. The new tool, to be launched later this year, will enable retailers in member states to market private label products by making labelling rules clear.

The sector’s official voice Independent Retail Europe (IRE) has been pushing for an easy route into the digital world, a move applauded by Dirk Morschett of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, who specializes in multi-channel marketing. According to him, “Retailers have to develop cross-channel strategies. Successful retailing today means that a store has to become a point of emotion rather than a mere point of sale.” He urges independents to reach out to the smartphone generation of internet-shopping consumers and square up to those manufacturers-turned-sellers and online players using their ample resources to take market share off them.

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