Can Woolworths succeed as an online shopping destination?
LONDON - Woolworths is being relaunched as an online retailer after being bought by Shop Direct, the internet shopping portal owned by the Barclay brothers. Can the once-iconic brand find a new lease of life online in spite of its high-street demise?
YES - Tony Effik, chief strategy officer, Publicis Modem
The last time I walked into a Woolworths it felt like I had walked into a time capsule.
Using Alexa's Internet Archive - a time capsule for the web - I discovered Woolworths has always had the same approach to its website. It just never kept up.
It will now take Woolworths years to have the customer data that Amazon has, or the music retail savvy of iTunes, or the fashion cachet of ASOS, yet the brand is in the perfect position to succeed as an etailer.
Who in the UK hasn't heard of Woolworths, or isn't aware of its discount positioning? It has a piece of mental real estate that would make online retailers green with envy. Success will come by narrowing its focus to a category like family entertainment, and then using digital channels to help carry existing and lapsed customers with it.
YES - Sav Evangelou, executive creative director, Digitas
How will Woolies online differentiate itself from say Amazon, Argos, Tesco et al? Maximising the potential of its fondly regarded Ladybird kids fashion brand is unlikely to drive sufficient volume to support a business.
There will, however, be a national willingness for it to succeed and, unlike new brand launches, it will benefit from latent positive brand equity resulting in online footfall from nostalgia alone.
Imagine day one of trading. After January's 'shelves stripped bare' headlines, the virtual doors miraculously (re)open. What a never-to-be-repeated opportunity for Woolworths to show it can leapfrog an entire generation of homogenised online retail and reinvent itself.
The new homepage asks for your Woolies real-world likes and dislikes. So tell Woolies what you want from it and let's see how it responds. Personally, I look forward to my first micro payment pick 'n' mix.
NO - Andrew Hood, managing director, Lynchpin
There is a huge amount of heritage with the Woolworths brand, so the move online is no surprise. It reflects what is happening in retail today.
Creating an e-commerce site may very well be the strongest move for a brand. But for it to succeed, Woolworths needs to establish what it will actually be online. In its latter years, the high-street brand didn't seem to know what it was, selling everything from cheap CDs and pick 'n' mix to tupperware.
To take a similar offering online would be a massive challenge and would almost certainly spread the company too thin, not to mention putting it up against popular sites like Amazon that already sell 'everything'.
Instant success is unlikely and a solid long-term online strategy is essential after its offline strategy failed so dramatically.
NO - Jon Bains, chairman, Lateral
My immediate reaction is simply, no. While the brand has a great deal of heritage and nostalgia, it's simply too much of a stretch to believe that, in the price-comparison world we live in, an ageing brand like Woolworths can compete - especially given the commoditised nature of its product selection.
If Woolworths' peers on the high street are Pound Stretcher at one extreme and Argos at the other, then what exactly can it sell to create a standout digital proposition? Media is both sewn up and on the decline, clothing is tricky and I suspect replicating pick 'n' mix online is simply impractical.
However, Woolies' running costs will drop to negligible levels and Shop Direct can simply start white-labelling existing Woolies properties when it feels there is an opportunity. Perhaps with an older target audience, a well-researched offering, a friendly website and some slick marketing - maybe it might just work, but it's by no means a dead cert.
This article was first published on revolutionmagazine.com
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