For multi-channel retailers.

The rate of online sales is surging ahead of expectations and will account for more than a third of multi-channel retailers’ sales by 2018, according to new research by the Commonwealth Bank. The study of retail channels to market also shows only one in five merchants use third party sites to attract customers; likely to increase as they ready for the local arrival of Amazon.

The latest CommBank Retail Insights Report reveals online transactions have increased by 61% for multi-channel retailers since August 2015, when the bi-annual study was first taken, and now account for 29% of all industry sales by volume. Multi-channel retailers predict this figure will rise to 35% over the next 12 months.

Commonwealth Bank national manager for retail industry, Jerry Macey said, “Retailers maintain a bullish outlook for online sales and yet may be underestimating future growth, as they have previously. They forecasted 24% growth during 2016 compared to actual growth of 32%.

“Many retailers are realising the benefits of a true multi-channel strategy to drive traffic both online and in-store. To maintain their growth, retailers continue to adjust their strategies to adapt to changing market conditions such as the pending arrival of Amazon.

“We are seeing the more conventional digital marketing and sales channels like email and mobile apps drop off considerably, as retailers focus on those channels that are not only the most profitable, but can actually improve customer engagement, convenience and foster loyalty.”

While a company owned website remains the primary online sales channel for most retailers, 22 % are using third party websites to sell products and only 7% of Australian retailers are using third party sites as their sole sales channel.

“There is significant potential for more retailers to look at third party sites as a viable sales channel, rather than adopting a purely defensive stance,” Macey said.

Improving delivery and return services has also remained a top priority for retailers seeking to capitalise on growing online sales volumes. ‘Click and Collect’ is now being offered by 42% of retailers, up from 24% in August 2015. Similarly, 38% of retailers now allow shoppers to return online purchases in-store, up from 23% only 18 months ago.