UK Retail: 5 Tips to Overcome the Challenges Facing Ecommerce in 2021

Comestri's Frank Lombos shares his tops for UK retail in 2021

Comestri’s GM Business Development (Europe) Frank Lombos shares insights and tips for UK retailers.

As we look towards the future, 2021 is looking brighter and more hopeful for UK retail already. The frost is thawing, the vaccine is rolling out and summer is mere months away.

And importantly, school should be going back next week 👊

This year will bring its own challenges, but the changes made last year has set us up for the best chance of success in 2021.

“We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

I’ve recently joined Comestri who provide PIM, OMS and marketplace management software. The company is 12 years old and has been growing rapidly, particularly in the last couple of years. Joining Comestri at this point in time is exciting; retail transformation in the UK is abundant – everything is changing before our very eyes!

Online sales in the UK are booming. The pandemic pushed us to new levels, changed consumer behavior and it’s not looking to slow down any time soon.

YoY Growth in UK Online Sales, 2018 – 2020

UK Retail: YoY Growth in Online Retail Sales, 2018 - 2020

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Here are some quick tips to overcome the challenges I see retailers facing this year. If we can get through 2020, we can get through anything (maybe even homes)

Tip #1: Omnichannel is the only way forward.

YoY Growth for Online Sales: Multichannel and Pureplay Retailers

UK Retail: YoY Growth for Online Sales: Multichannel and Pureplay Retailers

[ IMRG ] This graph from IMRG says it all, doesn’t it? Consumers will shop where they want to shop, and successful retailers have realised this. An omnichannel strategy will see your products and brand placed in front of consumers wherever they shop – your retail stores, website, marketplaces and sales channel. The use of PIM (Product Information Management) software will ensure your products are consistent, enriched with attributes so they can be found, and tailored per sales channel. The result? An exceptional customer experience.

Tip #2: Product content = product experience.

Product content matters. It gives the customer the best possible product experience without actually touching the product itself. Online shoppers expect compelling and robust product descriptions, high quality imagery and videos, customer reviews and content, content, content.

70% of returns are size and fit related. Product returns cost UK retail around £60bn / year and can account for up to 10% of your business. By providing the right product content at the point of purchase (ie. product page), your rate of return will decrease.

Product Content That Converts

Get your products found, increase conversions and reduce returns with a touch of content magic.

Tip #3: The delivery experience is more important than ever.

84% of UK consumers saw that the delivery experience stands out most when thinking about a purchase, and 87% say the delivery experience directly impacts their decision to shop with the merchant again.

Consumers expect delivery options; free shipping, express shipping, click and collect, same day, weekend…. The list goes on! But how can you effectively offer these options and still maintain a margin?

I have 2 tips here – Distributed OMS and multiple carriers.

A distributed order management system gives you the flexibility to support multiple channels, fulfilment methods, fulfilment locations and return points. By incorporating inventory, you can ship from the closest location to the customer, offer click and collect and not run the risk of stock outs.

By integrating multiple carriers into your ecommerce platform, you can not only offer delivery options, but also assign the delivery to the right carrier for the job.

Tip #4: Turn returns into a positive experience.

Firstly, ensure you’ve done everything in your power to reduce your rate of return (see above regarding product content). Next, accept that returns are a part of ecommerce and need to be treated as an opportunity and not just a business expense. Bedrooms have become the new fitting room in this virus-infested world – returns are a part of the post-purchase experience.

What consumers want:

  1. Free returns. 62% of consumers won’t shop with a retailer that doesn’t offer free returns.
  2. Simple and pain-free returns. Customers expect to return an item in a manner that suits them – via courier, instore, collection box etc.
  3. Instant refunds. Don’t keep them waiting!

Get it right, and you will boost customer loyalty and your bottom line. A positive returns experience will instill trust in your brand, reduce barriers to purchase and boost your marketing appeal in the long run.

Tip #5: Let’s pick up the sustainability conversation again.

We may have dropped the ball globally on this one last year, but hey – we had other things going on, right?

Sustainability is back in a big way; consumers are concerned about their environmental impact and retailers should be too!

If you’re not in it for the sake of the planet, maybe the fact that 75% of consumers intend to shop more with retailers and brands that are making their delivery and returns processes more sustainable will change your mind?

Sustainability is driving dramatic consumer change with mindful shoppers looking for more local options. YouGov found that, as a result of coronavirus, 64% of people want to support local businesses and buy local products, with women being even more likely to shop within their community (70%).

How is it done? Unfortunately there’s no quick answer, but plenty of ideas to get you started:

  • Engage carriers that offer ‘green deliveries’ and add this to your carrier mix. If you’re offering multiple shipping options at the checkout, consumers can select this option. 24% of UK consumers are willing to pay for a more sustainable delivery.
  • Technology can be used to reduce the carbon footprint of a delivery. By shipping from the closest location to the customer, a delivery is faster, cheaper and much better for the environment. For this to work, you need a DOM System with live inventory availability.
  • Incorporate sustainable packaging; it’s better for the environment, better for people and better for your brand.


If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading my hopefully useful article. I hope that I have given you some actionable tips to help you thrive in 2021. Would you like to see how Comestri can help your business? I’d love to give you a product demonstration -COVID-safe, of course!

What do you think? Join the conversation here.