Apart from reminding my kids to make Mother's Day cards for my wife (obviously shows more intimacy than buying them!), I spent the weekend putting the finishing touches to my race-tuned Suzuki GSXR750 before I baptise it at Cadwell Park racetrack next month.
I've spent the long cold winter months up-rating the brakes, brake-lines, exhaust system, race clutch, tuning the carburettors and other bits and bobs that I hope will make it go faster than the others on the track with me. Consequently, I've spent a fair bit of cash on the beast and it occurred to me as I was totting up the bill that none of it actually involved me walking in to a motorbike shop.
In fact, all of the transactions were done online, typically late on a Saturday or Sunday night, and flawlessly delivered to my door 24 or 48 hours later. Convenience and cost were two of the obvious drivers for using www.bikebitz.com and other similarly wacky-named merchandising sites, but also because of the specialised nature of the some of the parts - my local bike dealer would only have to order in the red-anodised Goodrich brake hoses with alloy banjo nuts (!), so why pay him for doing so when I can go direct and save the time and cost?
My experience is, I am sure, fairly typical, and lends credence to the importance of the increasingly online world of retail. It also supports the argument that the 'traditional' retailers need to wake up to their website woes as covered in the analysis that we at Xansa have just completed and launched with Akamai, our partners in a 'multi-channel retail' proposition (in which we help retailers do more with their channels to market).
The study, conducted on our behalf by Verdict Research, involved interviewing 52 retailers and examined the performance of retailers’ online operations over the 2005 festive period. Crucially, it looks at the value of online sales lost due to website performance issues, and at the proportion of retailers having to employ costly alternative infrastructure.
While my experiences, as I've already said, were impressive (easy buying experience, quick delivery, accurate fulfilment, great products) - all of the sites I used were specialist 'online-only' retailers. None of them have costly retail outlets to staff and maintain.
Why is the Xansa/Akamai report important? Because online retailing is getting bigger all the time - in 2000, online sales accounted for just 0.8% of all retail sales. By 2005 this figure had increased to 3.1%, and we forecast that in a few years it will be nearly 7%.
Retailers need to wake up to the increasing importance of online as a channel to market and make it easy for consumers to purchase from them - ease, convenience, accuracy, speed - all are important factors to ensure a customer doesn't give up and go elsewhere. The research makes stark reading, with an estimated £84m worth of lost online sales due to problems with the 'online customer experience'.
Worse still, this is likely to be £226m during 2006 even using conservative growth estimates for online retailing. Of course, this isn't saying these sales just vanished: many would have gone to rival retailers, and some would have ended up trekking the high street. The point is simple - for those retailers affected, these were sales that could have contributed to their bottom line and could have made the difference between a profitable or unprofitable online operation. Personally, when I have bad retail experiences or customer service - whether these are online or in store, I tend to hold grudges - I often think twice about going back, and indeed often take my money elsewhere.
The key issues are, perhaps not surprisingly, website underperformance and slowness, and website downtime. I also can't stand confusing web pages (I have a short attention span - it needs to be easy for me to buy!) or poorly designed ones. For me, these are all online versions of shoddy in-store customer service, and issues that retailers ignore at their peril.
Of course, I won't be thinking of any of this when the red lights go out at Cadwell next month.