Is there really a problem?
E-commerce sales are indeed growing at a healthy rate. They accounted for 9% of all U.S. retail sales in 2017 and are projected to reach 12.4% in 2020, according to Statista. However, nearly all the top 50 online retailers also operate physical stores according to the NRF (National Retail Federation). And the number of those stores is growing. The NRF shared an IHL Group report that noted there was a net increase of 2,000 physical stores in 2018. Offering a blend of ecommerce and brick-and-mortar often means a boost for the retailer. Via the NRF and ICSC , “Opening a new [physical] store increases traffic to that retailer’s website by an average of 37%.”
Considering all of the buzz that exists around e-commerce, that percentage of online sales to physical store sales may seem low. However, many shoppers engage in research online before making a purchase. And the more complex and pricey the item, the more this is true. In fact, driving customers to come into the store is a smart goal for retailers as “shoppers are spending significantly more in-store than online during a typical shopping visit and are more likely to add items to their carts when shopping in-store,” according to a First Insight Report.
The tech aspect of a shopping experience doesn’t necessarily end when a customer enters the store. According to Retail Dive, “71% of shoppers … use mobile devices in stores, a number that is up from 62% in 2017.” Shoppers do this to research products, consider reviews, and check prices. To facilitate this evolving customer behavior, retailers need to offer wi-fi that is reliable and quick.
Why do customers still go to the store?
It’s all about the experience. To get a customer into, and return to, the store requires retailers to offer a compelling customer experience. Such an experience means all of the interactions between a customer and the retailer have been considered and designed with the customer in mind. Among other things, a good customer experience requires friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable employees offering personalized service. This pleasant element makes a customer feel welcomed and that the store cares. Another element of the customer experience is the store’s appearance. A clean, well-lit, and organized store is inviting and can inspire customers to want to be there.
Touch and feel
Ever get a product that you ordered on-line and wonder if the retailer played a switcheroo? There’s nothing like being in the store and using one’s senses to determine if the product is right for you. When in-store, customers can touch the merchandise and consider its feel. They can look at an item and verify it matches their desires/expectations. If shopping for a clothes item, customers can try the item on to consider how it fits, looks, etc.
Everybody likes to get a good deal. People generally feel they need to go online to get the best prices. To draw customers into the store, retailers can offer exclusive items, or a better price on an item, when it’s purchased in person. The deal needs to be genuine and special to incentivize the customer to come into the store. Flash sales can also be featured in-store only. And a loyalty program can be offered and redeemable in-store only. Once the customer is in the store, it’s up to the retailer to wow him/her with a superior customer experience.
Opening a new [physical] store increases traffic to that retailer’s website by an average of 37%
Shopping at a brick-and-mortar store also offers a chance for socialization. People may shop in groups or meet others at the store as a way of hanging out and spending time together. Retailers can offer in-store experiences which enable socialization while also showcasing their products. For example, a hardware store may offer classes or events, such as how to build things around the house or how to select the right tool for a job. When offering in-store experiences, going to the store becomes about something more than the transaction – the store becomes a destination where customers can learn something useful and perhaps meet others with common interests.
While they say, the key to real estate is “location, location, location”, the same is usually true about retail. While not every small business can have a prime location, they can become one. The brick-and-mortar store can use its physical space in fun creative ways. This can involve having in-store and window displays, reorganizing the merchandise, or playing background music that inspires shoppers to browse. With a creative approach, the space becomes an asset and draws customers in as they wonder, ‘What’s new?’ Customers want to be part of the experience.
For small businesses, bringing customers into their brick-and-mortar store is a challenge that will only grow. A blend of e-commerce and brick-and-mortar storefronts opens more markets for the retailer and provides their customers with flexibility in how they want to shop. Customers still make the majority of their purchases in-store, and it’s up to retailers to draw them in just as they always have. Focusing on the customer experience, offering in-store exclusives, and featuring unique in-store experiences give customers a reason to come into the brick-and-mortar store.
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