Being less able to visit physical stores, shoppers have been faced with no other option but to buy online. This rapid acceleration of internet shopping has caused retailers of all sizes real challenges.

It’s a pain point that James Steel, Director of Cloud Retail Solutions provider, Citrus-Lime, knows all too well. “The arrival of Amazon, and the way it changed the status quo, really disrupted the sector,” he says. “It enabled people to search for what they wanted, browse the products on offer, make a purchase and have it delivered direct to the front door – all without setting foot outside the house.”

If people weren’t shopping online before, they are now. Whether we like it or not, the tentacles of ecommerce are touching everything in retail. Now shoppers have got used to its ease and convenience, the seismic shift to online is here to stay.

James isn’t surprised. “These days, the search for goods starts on the internet, so it’s really important for retailers to have a web presence. While price is a big driver, many people are looking for choice and convenience too. They want delivery, they want click and collect, they want finance and they want to know what stock retailers have and when they can get it.”

The counterargument he makes, however, is that while the world wide web satisfies lots of shoppers needs, when it comes to high-value or individual goods, the physical store will always be an essential part of the mix. “Buying a suit is a personal pursuit. Fit and feel are crucial to the experience and this is something that can’t be replicated by looking at an image on screen. You wouldn’t spend £1,000 on a sofa without sitting on it first and, while not as expensive, it’s the same principle for trying out a new pair of shoes.”

This, according to James, is a good thing. He considers independent retailers to be passionate people. They love their store and that enthusiasm spills out in the way they interact with customers. It’s their intricate knowledge of the product and the personal service they deliver that sets them apart from the retail giants and chains.

That said, James is a firm believer that in order to survive and thrive, independent retailers will need to adapt. “Those who implement ecommerce in addition to their store will remain in the game. But it doesn’t stop there; offering different ways to pay can only encourage purchases and supplying products in a way customers want to receive them will help independents compete.”

The way forward, in his view, is for independent retailers to embrace an end-to-end service model. “Buyers want to be able to access goods with the least amount of hassle. Whether they go direct to store or go online, offering a slick delivery service, click and collect and finance options are going to be the game changers. This is the inevitable future of retail and all the pandemic did was make the future happen faster.”