​With insight from some new friends on the Ashford high street, Loveashford takes a look at the value of online shopping vs the high street experience.

When we talk about online sales versus the physical shop – who is really winning?

How much of those online sales rely on a store and how many sales are bought online and then collected in store? We could also ask, how many customers only purchased online after browsing the rails? Receiving valuable product information and customer service through interaction with a human being. Would the online sale have taken place if the customer had not built up a relationship with the store staff?

Everywhere you look in town centres, up and down the country, click & collect is growing for many of the larger retailers; representing as much as 50% of online sales and is set to grow even more. The success of click and collect has been largely down to the convenience for customers not having to wait at home or collect from the post office.

The biggest winners are the retailers attracting higher spends and footfall. Bricks and mortar stores give retailers the opportunity to interact with their customers. There is a special place for the social interaction and experience of retail-therapy, and retailers know the way to build a brand and customer loyalty is through a seamless customer experience. People need choice and expect an exceptional experience, whether it is shopping online or in store.

We’re seeing a change in the traditional order of things here – online retailers who have established themselves are now seeking bricks and mortar. One of those retailers is Happy & Glorious, who recently set up their first shop in Ashford’s Park Mall shopping centre.

We asked Happy & Glorious owner, Kate Tompsett why she decided to set up a website to build her brand before opening a shop.

I first opened an online business in 2012 after working in retail for 17 years, although I desperately wanted my own shop I knew the sensible thing to do was to start online first.

Kate explained.

Setting up a retail website was the best way to start building my business, with low risks and the chance to market my brand on social media at minimal cost. I ran the whole business from home in the evenings and weekends whilst working full time elsewhere. I kept overheads low, and did everything myself, with a little support from a lovely designer friend who created my logo and gave me advice on trickier aspects of the website.

Social media is such an invaluable part of Happy & Glorious. I have used Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to reach out to customers, promote talented friends, discover events and popup shop opportunities, source new suppliers and connect with local press. I also find that social media makes me look around more for things to feature; making me more observant, more positive, and better at photography too!

When I progressed to exhibiting at fairs, and later at PopUp Britain in Ashford in 2014, I already had an established brand and a loyal customer base that I could keep informed with my news. It allowed my business to grow gradually and organically, setting more opportunities in my path that I wouldn’t have had without the online aspect of the business. If I had opened my bricks-and-mortar shop first, it would have been a real struggle to build the website whilst juggling day-to-day shop life, which can be rather unpredictable!

It was a natural development to move my business to Park Mall when the chance arose, and I’m very happy to be here. Having an online presence gives my business a dual stream of income, and allows me to sell on a national and global level, whilst fulfilling my 20-year dream of having a physical presence on the high street.

So, online sales or physical shop?

Building an online business first and bricks and mortar second appears to be where some smaller brands are going, allowing them to learn about their customers before opening a shop and thus creating a seamless experience, where online and store combine to ensure a business is sustainable.

Read more about why social media is great for business in 2016.

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