There’s probably not a teenager alive who doesn’t think they know more than their parents. Despite their youth and inexperience, teens feel that their coolness gives them a depth of knowledge and worldliness that, in reality, is a stake they have little right to claim.
This parallel can be applied to retail, where online merchants may think they have nothing to learn from merchants born in the physical world.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are five things that online merchants can learn from stores:
Experience the brand with all your senses
A physical store, be it temporary or permanent, is still the only place a customer can see, touch, smell, taste and hear your brand. According to Retail TouchPoints 85% of consumers prefer to shop in physical stores because they like to touch and feel products. The influence that our senses have on the buying process is nothing new in the retail space – just ask anyone in the perfume industry – but many retailers have lost sight (pun intended) of creating a truly immersive brand experience. Here are a few ways stores can impact the senses and a customer’s emotional attachment to a brand.
- Sight –the strategically placed last minute, got-to-have-it impulse purchase
- Sound- the sounds of holiday music filling the store gets you in the holiday (and buying) spirit
- Smell- a pleasing sent that embeds a positive memory association with products
- Touch- the tactile response to the quality of a design or fabric
- Taste- a free sample that lets you try before you buy
Expand brand awareness
As reported in a recent Forbes article, a recent survey by William Blair of teens and young adults found that “almost 41% of those surveyed said they were hitting the malls more this year, which was the first uptick in mall traffic since 2013.” Simply put, a variety of shopping channels give you access to new customers. A physical presence at a popular event or shopping location gives you access to customers who may otherwise never see your brand. One example: a small power-bar company setting up shop at the finish line of a marathon.
This is especially true for online-only retailers where a physical location allows them to interact with customers and educate them on their brand and products. In this way, pop-up stores have become a key strategy for online retailers seeking to expand their brand into new markets. Even Amazon and Google are experimenting with the pop-up concept.
Better understand the customer
If you want your customer to engage with your brand (and buy) across all channels, you must understand their shopping behavior across your channels. What are they looking at? How are they searching? Are they abandoning carts? The combination of online and in-store data allows you to identify and target key shopping behaviors including:
- Online browsing/product research and in-store purchases
- Store purchases driving traffic online
- Promotional and product preferences in different channels
Only by understanding customer preferences and behavior online and in-store can a brand create more personalized and targeted interactions, which ultimately lead to more sales.
Learn from your elders
Stores have been around a lot longer than ecommerce sites, which means that slick, fast-growing sites can learn a thing or two (or more) from stores to enhance the online experience.
Keeping up with changing trends
While this may seem obvious, the pace at which change is happening is increasing and it only takes a very short period of time to fall behind or worse, have the perception of being behind. Just look at payments, where the online world is struggling to adopt mobile payments as much as physical stores.
Visual merchandising matters
Retail stores are constantly re-merchandising the store to create new looks and highlight new products. They need to create new and appealing environments for customers, and those environments must be clean and easy to navigate. The same is true for ecommerce sites, which should always be looking at new ways to create online curb appeal. A well-designed site attracts and retains shoppers, while a poor user experience and bad design are a one-way ticket to your competition.
Provide additional value
The key to growing sales, for stores, are knowledgeable and friendly staff. A great associate knows their products and customers. While an online site doesn’t have the same personal touch, it should deliver content that is interesting and relevant to the online shopper. Some sites, such as Suitsupply, take it a step further, offering virtual assistants to help with fit and coordinating pieces.
Deliver products quickly
Waiting days to receive an online order is no longer the case when it comes to meeting customer expectations. Same day delivery, pioneered by companies like Amazon and Uber, is becoming commonplace in some regions. Retailers can address this change in expectation and deliver value to the business by relying on fulfilment from the store. There is no doubt this will cause a shift in operations, requiring retailers to become more agile. But retailers like Home Depot, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, are seeing success with 42% of their online orders and 90% of their online returns for the second quarter of 2016 handled by its stores.
Returning items to the store is actually great for the brand. Not only do they avoid the cost of return shipping, they get the shopper in the store and raise the chance that the shopper will buy another item.
There’s no question digital commerce is driving the bulk of growth in the retail sector, but it’s still the new kid on the block. Stores are good for digital just as digital is good for store. These channels will live in parallel in a world of unified commerce, where shoppers move seamlessly from store to online and mobile. Need proof? An October study found that shoppers who browse retail sites on their phones from within stores spend up to 150% more in the store than shoppers who don’t.
A big piece of delivering that unified commerce experience is evolving the store with 21-century technology; in particular, cloud-based point of sale and store operations that help tie it all together. Check out this short video to see what’s possible.
While the definition and method of consumerism is changing and expanding dramatically, it is not a zero sum game. For that reason, stores and all forms of digital commerce will continue to thrive and, if they’re smart, will learn from each other to evolve along with their customers.