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Want to know how 2018’s business stars made it?

How retailers are defying the downturn with a digital approach

Many online retailers are thriving – particularly those who are brave enough to eschew the expense of traditional advertising. Following its feature in the 2017 list, online sportswear retailer Gymshark has reported a 127.86% increase in sales over the last three years, and all without a single physical shop. Boasting over 7m social media followers, Gymshark’s success rests heavily on its influencer and Instagram marketing strategies. This is a valuable lesson for all modern retailers. With over 3bn social media users expected worldwide by 2021, this will only continue to be a key channel for advertising and engaging with customers.

Another way to ensure success in digital retailing is to make sure your customers can still contact a human agent to provide the personal touch shoppers crave. Online travel agent TravelUp is a great example of this. When founder Ali Shah launched his business in 2004, he spoke no English and had no UK travel experience. Fortunately, Shah wasn’t fazed: in his native Pakistan, he didn’t even have access to a computer to aid his work as a business travel agent. His digital-only travel agency now has the technology it needs to offer flight and package holiday deals online to a global client base. Crucially, customers are also supported via a UK call centre, ensuring travellers can still receive a human customer service experience, despite the lack of physical stores.

Some retailers are bucking the trend

Not all of the retailers in the list are solely relying on their online presence. Some of 2018’s top performers are actively taking up new premises on the high street. Menswear brand END. started life as a physical store in Newcastle in the mid-noughties, before its founders saw the potential of online shopping and switched focus to their digital offering. Now shipping up to 6,000 parcels a day, they’ve opened a flagship store in London’s Soho. The brand’s success comes from its carefully curated offering of world leading brands, giving shoppers convenient access to a range of quality products. It’s this convenience that can help retailers beat online competition.

Likewise, Revolution Beauty was originally intended to be an online-only brand. Their beauty products – kept affordable by shunning traditional advertising in favour of influencer and social media marketing – have now been picked up by Superdrug, giving physical shoppers access to their products. Considering Revolution Beauty came in at number three on the Fast Track, this is a solid strategy for emerging retail brands, giving high street exposure without the physical investment of a storefront.

The strategies for success

The most relevant strategies will always depend on the nature of the product – what works for a luxury menswear brand won’t always be right for a cult beauty retailer. But across the board, there are some clear suggestions:

  • Social media marketing powers some of the most successful modern retail brands. So, whether you’re online-only or have physical stores, ensure you’re investing in your social presence
  • If you’re a digital retailer, ensure you have call agents available to provide a human voice to your customer service, and the appropriate infrastructure to keep this running
  • For those looking to launch a physical presence, pursue scalable, lower-risk strategies – like pop-up shops or focusing on getting your product stock in a larger retailer – to test the waters

Whether your retail business is expanding its digital presence, focusing on an online-only future, or even making the move back into having a physical premise, there’s no denying that the retail climate is difficult. But as the Fast Track league table shows, with the right strategies and technology in place, retailers can still thrive in the digital age.

Our latest research report, Survive + Thrive: The State of Technology Adoption in UK Business, reveals the strategies of the UK’s most successful businesses.