When you think back to what the retail experience was like in the mid to later part of the 20th century, it would have been impossible to imagine the extent to which it has been transformed in just the past few years. For instance, who would have guessed that so many consumers would come to prefer purchasing more and more through “virtual” means? For today’s brick-and-mortar merchants, it is imperative to bring the best of the online experience into the physical milieu or risk becoming irrelevant.
Advantages of ecommerce.
Most likely, you recognize the upside of ecommerce because you have bought things online many times yourself. Shopping via the internet is appealing for several reasons. After all, it’s convenient and can be accomplished any time of the day or night. Thanks to today’s advanced virtual shopping carts and credit card processing equipment, you can rest assured that your sensitive payment data is properly encrypted and tokenized to prevent interception by hackers. Best of all, what you buy from the comfort of your couch can be delivered right to your door in a matter of days and even hours.
Advantages of in-person buying.
Efficiency and convenience are fine, but you as a brick-and-mortar retailer know that there is more involved when it comes to providing the optimal shopping experience. Often, customers want to get up close and personal with the goods they are looking at purchasing. They want to try on the outfits, ask a sales associate how an electronic gadget works and whether it compares favorably to last year’s model, and eyeball a household item in-person to make sure it fits well with their existing décor. While ecommerce merchants are continuing to work hard to make returns and exchanges as easy as possible, many consumers will simply never want to give up the face-to-face experience in-person shopping provides.
That is where integrating digital modalities into your brick-and-mortar business can prove to be a win-win proposition for you and your customers. The good news is that there are easy ways to make this possible.
No matter how small or rustic your physical location might be, you might still find that adding some slick technology into your sales strategies can make people realize that coming to your store was worth the gasoline and the time. For instance, augmented or virtual reality can help customers simulate the experience of trying on or using a product that you may not have in your store at that particular moment.
Behind the scenes, artificial intelligence can keep track of what your shoppers are buying, as well as how long it took them to pick out the product they eventually settled on. Armed with this data, you can have a better idea of which items are grabbing buyers’ interest and which might need to be permanently shelved. In addition, sensors can track consumers’ progress through your aisles, noting how long they lingered while also assisting in inventory management.
Take advantage of omnichannel opportunities.
Today’s retail experience has many facets. Consumers can see and touch items in person, watch videos extolling a product’s features, and access customer reviews. It is the savvy merchant who finds ways to integrate all of these approaches into their business plan.
Start by developing your social media persona. Be sure to capitalize on the brand identity you have already developed. This can mean getting support from customers, many of whom are already in the habit of making how-to videos. You can also review product demos on YouTube and other sites.
Technology can also assist your checkout staff by way of self-service kiosks. These allow buyers to take control of their own payments, remove the need for contact between associates and consumers, and speed up checkout lines. Best of all, they free up your sales associates to provide product information and other assistance, thus working to improve customer satisfaction.
Implement hybrid product ordering.
Remember that key ecommerce advantage that allowed people to browse a site at their leisure and choose what they wanted with no pressure or time constraints? The only downside to this shopping method is that those consumers must wait for their goods to be delivered to their door. This level of patience is not always easy for contemporary customers who have become used to instant gratification.
When you integrate ecommerce into your store’s business plan, you can allow shoppers to peruse your site, place items in their shopping carts, and purchase everything on their own time. Then, instead of having their items shipped, they can come to your brick-and-mortar shop later that day to pick them up. This buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) system has worked well for larger retailers such as Target and Walmart. There’s no reason why you cannot incorporate it into your consumer offerings as well.
Marry social media to in-store promotions.
You already know that maintaining a fun and dynamic social media presence is a terrific way to attract new customers, enhance your relationship with existing ones, and showcase the new products you’re most excited about. Now it’s time to let social media go to work for you in your store as well. Try coming up with some fun and engaging store promotions that will encourage guests to visit your shop. Then spark the interest of members in the online community by turning your in-store experience into a YouTube event or an Instagram opportunity! By doing so, your business will come out looking friendly, forward-thinking, and customer-focused.
Help customers and employees find items faster.
Whether your store is tiny or enormous, there will always be times when you, a customer, or one of your employees seems to search endlessly for a product that is definitely in stock and available but remains hidden in some nook or cranny. This can lead not only to frustration but also to poor use of time, and lost sales. In the worst-case scenario, a potential customer might walk out the door, never to return.
Fortunately, digital technology solutions make keeping track of your inventory exponentially easier. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can be attached to all of your products, making it possible for buyers and employees alike to track which items are in stock (and how many), as well as where they’re displayed. Another tactic that many retailers have begun to employ is to outfit each of their sales associates with mobile point of sale (mPOS) devices. These hand-held tablets show the location and price of products and can even make it possible for associates to recommend similar or supplementary items.
Provide employees with continuing education.
Think about it: A smart employee who is up-to-date on product trends and customer behaviors will be far better equipped to provide top-tier customer service to your valued consumers. As an employer, one of the benefits you can provide to your workers is continuing education. Investing in expanding your workers’ knowledge base will pay off in numerous ways, including increased employee morale.
Align your store promotions.
Let’s say you have a thriving ecommerce website as well as a physical store. If you fall into this category, you might find that the two entities often seem to function autonomously. The problem with that isolationist approach is that you are failing to allow for the interplay among channels that can lead to enhanced customer satisfaction and higher profits for you.
One of the best ways to connect your digital presence with your physical one is to align your promotions. Why have an online-only sale when you can synergize your customer incentives? For instance, a consumer should be able to print out a discount coupon they see online and then redeem it in your store. The same goes for product returns; the flow should be frictionless.
Today’s shopping experiences are a far cry from the ones our parents and grandparents were accustomed to. However, some things have not changed. Customers still want to feel cared about; they want to interact with employees who are knowledgeable about the products they are interested in and can help to guide them in the right direction. Checking out should be as fast and painless as possible, and returns should be a breeze. Whether it takes place online, in-store, or via a happy combination of both, modern, multi-channel product search and acquisition can deftly provide buyers with all of the benefits they loved in the past. Not to mention, the convenience and efficiency offered by more modern innovations.