How brick-and-mortar retailers can attract business in an e-commerce world
Photo by iStock.com
By Mark Boeder, director of marketing strategy, North American Bancard
Almost every day we read about another major retailer closing its physical locations. Wellknown brands like Sports Authority and Payless have liquidated and filed for bankruptcy, respectively. A little over a year ago, Ralph Lauren announced it was closing its flagship store in Manhattan as part of its plan to help optimize the store portfolio and shift toward new and innovative customer experiences.
These "new customer experiences" have trended toward online shopping that can be done from the comfort of one's own home or even via a smart device. Many of today's retail giants invest heavily in e-commerce in order to meet the demands of evolving customer needs. With competition tougher than ever, how can traditional retailers attract customers to their physical stores?
Emphasize speed, convenience and create friction-free commerce
Online shoppers almost always have to wait for their purchases to arrive (or pay extra for overnight shipping), so as a brick-and-mortar merchant, why not highlight the ability to deliver on instant gratification? It's best to market this type of strategy to customers in your neighborhood. Make sure you are known in your market with signage and local advertising, and be sure to have an online presence that notes your physical location to ensure customers can easily find your store when conducting research.
Traditional retailers sometimes have a tougher time creating a friction-free environment. When considering the hurdles customers encounter in-store, try to determine why a customer would decide not to make a purchase. Is an item not in stock? Are employees unable to answer questions? Understand possible pain points and take steps to alleviate them. If you are out of an item, consider offering complimentary shipping to your customer's home, and make sure employees are equipped with knowledge or resources to answer customer questions.
Build strong customer relationships by leveraging social media
Today's consumers aren't just interested in good prices — they are also searching for rewarding shopping and life experiences. You can engage with your customers beyond the store by creating a vibrant social media presence online and encouraging customers to "meet" you on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. If you sell kitchen goods, try sharing relevant and seasonal recipes online that your customers can try at home and share with others. You could also provide cooking tips or publish schedules for in-store demonstrations.
Take advantage of the technology, but don't inundate customers with too much information — especially too frequent advertising. Doing so will take too much attention away from your store and your core business. Instead, become a resource for a tight-knit community of your best customers.
Create smarter in-store experiences
Retailers can make a number of changes that can reshape the customer's experience in-store. Try to make things easy with clear signage, well organized shelves, and simple pricing. If you offer specialty or gourmet products, consider adding additional descriptive tags to pique customer interest. If you can marry your in-store presence to your website for an interactive experience, that's even better.
There is another critical component to making a smarter in-store shopping experience, and that is the checkout. After you've gone through all the work of getting customers into your store and providing a great shopping experience, you don't falter when it's time to close the deal.
Ensure your checkout process is streamlined, secure and hassle-free by using modern equipment that can accept all preferred forms of payment. That includes all major credit cards, including EMV cards, as well as near-field communication payments like Apple Pay and Alipay. It's also a good idea to incorporate mobile point-of-sale solutions so you can perform transactions anywhere in the store, rather than at one congested location.
Contrary to some negative headlines, brick-and-mortar businesses are far from irrelevant. By providing a unique customer shopping experience that's as easy and smooth as shopping online — but with an added personal touch — traditional retailers can compete and win in today's market.