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eCommerce is great: but I sometimes miss the madness of a busy high street

David Massie

Pretty recently qualified, and most definitely full of my own importance, I somehow blagged a six-month secondment as Sales Manager in Boots Store 675: The Bon Accord Centre, Aberdeen. For context, Bon Accord was (and maybe still is) one of the top 10 busiest stores in the Boots portfolio. Aberdeen was awash with oil money ten years ago and the shop could stick over a million quid through the tills in a week. On top of that, it generated over £250k per month of NHS prescription revenue. It was a monster.


I’d been working in a small store in Aberdeenshire and as part of my development, the manager of Bon Accord Boots (George McDonald) took me under his experienced wing. As a boss, George has had the largest impact of any manager I have worked for and displayed a reverent power that gained respect from all. I still remember a stinging rebuke as we passed between floors on an escalator. I clearly hadn’t been paying full attention to something: “You’re like a butterfly. Stop floating about and FOCUS”. Ouch.


A decade on, with my Boots career now a distant memory I have learned how to talk Google.


How do these two points coalesce?


Monday morning in my Bon Accord mail tray and a pile of paper: Last week’s sales reports, shopping centre information, loyalty card statistics.


Piles and piles of data.


No one seemed to call it data ten years ago, but it was data. Of course, now I can open Google Analytics on my phone and interrogate data at will, but the principles remain constant:


  • Shopping centre footfall has been replaced by website users – but the target remains to get more customers.
  • Store dwell time has moved to Average Session Duration – but the target remains to keep customers shopping for longer.
  • Conversion rate has changed to, well, conversion rate and the target remains to get more of those customers spending.


Other less easily comparable metrics are also available: Productivity of modules, peak trading hours and significantly a huge chunk of customer profiling from the Boots loyalty scheme (Advantage Card) information. As I read the comments and opinions of some e-commerce pundits, you’d wonder how we managed to sell anything at all way back in the dark ages (a decade ago!).


Guess what? Decisions, as they are now, were based on data.


To that end, eCommerce is just a new modality of what retailers have been doing for years.


But eCommerce is an eon apart from conventional retail marketing: A precise, surgical strike compared to the relative carpet bombing of how the traditional high street operates.


As an example, Boots would pay to insert a high-end fragrance module into the mall, just outside the doors to the store. Four or five staff would ask just about every one of the thousands of shoppers that walked past them if they would like to try whatever fragrance was being promoted.


eCommerce flips this completely on its head,


The customer has already decided he or she wants to learn more about this fragrance and they “Google it”. You are then provided with a list of suppliers and offers direct to your 4-inch smartphone screen. (It is worth noting that you have likely seen this new fragrance advertised on a poster, in a magazine or on the side of a bus i.e Not online, but no matter, that is another topic).


Put simply, the eCommerce world allows you to spend your budget on customers who already want to buy your products. That is the Game Changer.


This game changer has opened up a whole new world of marketing which has been populated by some amazingly creative people, such as the digital agency we use for Dr Andrews Online Pharmacy – The Adeo Group.


I love the science and data that can be analysed to create detailed and pinpointedly accurate marketing plans.


I love the blank canvas of the internet that can be used to shape not only the answers to our customers but also the questions they ask.


I love how excited and engaged I can feel when The Adeo Group are pitching new ideas and the world feels like it can be conquered one click at a time.

But, God knows I sometimes miss the High Street.


I miss watching customers picking up products and examining them before they are purchased – seeing their faces as they like or dislike what they have selected. A smile as they think about the recipient of a gift or a frown as they disapprove of their own selection.


I miss listening to customers discussing the store, the weather, their kids, how much they hate shopping or anything else they choose.


I miss interacting with customers as they enjoy being in the store and generating the retail theatre and buzz that makes a great shop just that little bit intoxicating.


And most importantly of all, I miss the sheer visceral chaos of ten past three in the afternoon on the Saturday before Christmas.


Perhaps the great paradox of the innovative and creative world of eCommerce is that whilst we undoubtedly understand our customers better than ever through the vast data and tools at our disposal, we also are more removed from them than ever.


A daily challenge – and one to relish.


David Massie is Director at Eastwood Pharmacy Ltd & Co-Founder Dr Andrews Online Pharmacy.

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