Back at the time of the dot com boom, there was a great deal of debate about the future mix of business operations.
It was the turn of the millennium and there was a naïve belief that the business world was about to become electronically enabled. Terms like e-business and e-commerce were as over-used and over-hyped hyped as today’s equivalent buzz phrases, such as cloud computing and social media.
The thing is, the naïve spin masters were inevitably right – the business world has become electronically enabled. Phrases like e-business and e-commerce no longer matter because being electronic is a given; every company – large or small – is expected to have an online trading platform.
Back in the dot com boom, experts debated how traditional “bricks and mortar” firms would compete with online-only businesses. Would traditional companies create an online channel to become “bricks and clicks”?
The answer is “yes”, but in a form that is more complex than might have been imagined. Online only giants, like Amazon.co.uk and Lastminute.com, proved that having a high street presence no longer mattered.
A just-in-time supply chain and smooth web sites meant such businesses could offer competitive deals. The success of such firms meant that consumers started seeing the web as their first port of call, using price comparison to search out cheap deals.
High street stores have quickly become showrooms, where consumers will simply view products in-store before returning to the desktop and buying from the best-priced online business.
As a result, the dominance of online has matured to such a point that some firms are considering online-only provision. More than “bricks and clicks”, what has started to develop is “just clicks”.
Take insurance giant Allianz, which is considering the remodelling of its Cornhill Direct business into an online-only provider (see further reading, below). The traditional model of direct selling has proved costly in an age where many customers search online via aggregators.
By creating a well-designed web site, companies quickly realise – from manufacturers to media organisations (see further reading) – that online-only can helps cut costs without damaging customer service.
Even former Woolworths.co.uk, which emerged from the demise of former high street stalwart Woolworths, has taken the route to web-only selling. It seems that getting ahead for many businesses is all about being online-only.