For years we’ve heard about the war between brick-and-mortar retail outlets and their online rivals. With the phenomenal growth of companies like Amazon, the general perception is that sidewalk stores and retail parks have lost considerable ground.
There’s certainly been a decline, but offline stores have not disappeared. Indeed, some of the world’s best-known companies have embraced storefronts as important “touching points” with their customers. Apple is a prime example. Despite the vast majority of its sales occurring online, the company opened almost 30 new stores in 2012 and plan a similar number this year.
What’s more, according to a recent article about shopping habits on the Time website, the trend known as “showrooming” – looking at something in a store, then searching for a cheaper sale online – is reversing.
When questioned about holiday purchases, 65% of people said they were likely to check prices on the web, but actually buy locally.
It’s still a people business
A new wave of progressive brick-and-mortar retailers is helping to encourage the change by focusing on the one facet of their business that web-based companies can never compete with: human interaction.
That doesn’t mean they’re ignoring technology; far from it. But while they grasp the marketing opportunities offered by social media, they don’t attempt to turn it into a sales channel. They use it as another method of drawing prospective buyers to their retail locations.
There’s no doubt “traditional” retailing continues to be a challenge, but by using online marketing as part of the mix, stores of all sizes can be more effective than ever at reaching their prospective customers.
The customer experience
So isn’t it remarkable that many small businesses go to all the trouble of enticing people out of their homes, only to turn them away when they get to the door?
Today’s shopper is a sophisticated creature. Whether he or she wants a box of wood screws or a diamond ring, the person has probably experienced every selling technique ever devised. When a customer comes to your store rather than buying online, he or she wants the whole experience: to interact with another human being, be advised, be pampered, and be treated as special.
Shoppers are special. If you don’t think that, you’re in the wrong line of work.
The experience should start even before people walk through your door. They’ve seen your smart and shiny website; do you have smart and shiny signage to match?
It’s a remarkably important but often overlooked element. Let’s face it, you only get one chance to make a first impression. A scruffy sign puts people off, and it’s so unnecessary.
Modern signage materials can be cut and formed to create just about any style you like. Aluminum lettering is incredibly versatile and can be used to produce either a traditional or contemporary look. It can be polished, textured, and colored, yet it’s affordable, extremely durable, and requires virtually no maintenance.
Okay, you’ve made the outside inviting; does that feeling continue when your customer comes through the door? Good interior design is a real skill. If it’s not one of yours, be honest with yourself and get help. Retail consultants with experience in your sector are always a good idea, but they don’t come cheap.
If that kind of investment is beyond your budget, you can get inspiration from blogs and websites that feature current styles in store design. Always remember the importance of a consistent image.
Some experts call it “look and feel.” Your brick-and-mortar store should reflect your Internet presence – and vice versa. If that’s not working, one or the other needs changing.
Did we mention people?
The final ingredient – but certainly not the least important – is your staff. They need to “fit” too. Branded T-shirts, aprons, or whatever’s appropriate don’t cost much. White shirts and dark pants will do, as long as customers can recognize whom to turn to for help and advice.
Your workers also need to look like they’re ready to assist! Lounging on the counter, turning their backs on a customer, or scowling when interrupted should all bring instant dismissal. Okay, I’m joking about that – but only a little.
After all the effort you’ve exerted to this point, what could possibly be worse than having staff who tick off your customers? We’ve all experienced that, and it pretty much guarantees we won’t return to that particular establishment.
It’s great to be individual, to be a trend-setter or a market leader; it’s also a big risk. Worldwide retailers like Walmart, Home Depot, and IKEA do things a certain way because they’ve spent millions of dollars investigating what works best. You probably don’t have that kind of budget for experimentation, so borrowing some of their ideas probably wouldn’t do you any harm.