We’ve all seen the holiday shopping numbers – between November and December 2013 in-store foot traffic dropped by 14.6 percent compared to previous years, and online sales grew by almost 17 percent last year alone. This would indicate that brick-and-mortar is dying a quick, painful and expensive death. But I have my doubts. I’ve used many of these blog posts to predict that physical stores will remain an integral part of a retailer’s overall omnichannel strategy, so long as they can focus on customer engagement the same way they would on a website or email. And for quite some time, I’ve questioned whether retailers really understood that idea – but tides seem to be turning.
A recent Internet Retailer article highlights two retailers that are working to implement technology and programs that make in-store shopping more memorable and enjoyable for every customer. Each retailer makes it clear that to truly succeed every channel must work as one to keep customers happy.
The first retailer mentioned in the article is B&Q, the U.K. equivalent to Home Depot or Lowes, which has started to fill each of its physical locations with technology that connects its e-commerce site to the in-store experience. This includes options such as online to in-store pickup (and vise versa) and employee-operated iPads that help personalize customer purchases based on past behaviors.
The second retailer is Bon-Ton, a U.S. retailer that is working to Wi-Fi enable all of its locations so customers can better interact with their products via mobile while in store. This will allow shoppers to easily find different sizes or color options for particular products, locate a similar product at another nearby location, and order a desired product online.
While I won’t go as far as to say, “I told you so,” I do believe this article is the first of many that will explore how brick-and-mortar retailers are adapting and introducing new initiatives to improve customer engagement and increase in-store traffic figures. When push comes to shove, retailers must stop viewing omnichannel as a passing trend, and start developing an omnichannel strategy as part of a larger business development plan. Giving customers what they want is the only real way physical stores will remain operational (and profitable) for years to come.
In addition to some of the tactics that B&Q and Bon-Ton (and many other retailers) are implementing to improve in-store experiences, here are my top tips for retailers that are looking to change the brick-and-mortar status-quo:
Remember your main goal – SALES (across any channel): It’s important to understand that not every customer shops in the same way, i.e. not every customer that walks into a physical location plans to purchase there – and the same goes for online. But that doesn’t mean you won’t close the sale. Let’s say you analyze data to figure out that a specific shopper tends to showroom before buying from your e-commerce site. Don’t simply turn a blind eye to their in-store experience as that data can tell you a lot about their needs. You can, for example, use that information to tailor their mobile experience (assuming that they are showrooming via your mobile app or site). Or you can even make their ecommerce experience better because you know they were just in the store. For example, free expedited shipping to the store they just visited and perhaps a discounted accessory. The goal here is to grow their total sale, and to use what you know about them to create a uniquely compelling value proposition.
It is about them, not you: Of course you want sales, and you want your customers to buy from you all the time. But that is not reality. For a lot of our non-grocery retailers, the median customer shops only two to three times a year with that retailer. So in addition to driving sales, you also need to nurture the relationship between purchases. This means making sure that whenever you reach out them, you have something relevant for them. Note that I didn’t say “you have something you want to say.” It doesn’t matter what you want to say. The question is what do your customers want to hear? The emphasis is on the customer, not on the retailer. So you need to invest the energy in making sure that your messages are worth while. It may be “easier” to blast everyone with an email about your spring dress sale, but if a portion of your customers shop men’s clothing then you risk being irrelevant to them. The risk is not “unsubscribes,” rather they learn your message isn’t always interesting and they start to tune you out. By the time you do have a message that is relevant to them they have stopped listening.
Data, please: You could implement every retail technology solution possible, but if you aren’t collecting customer data, good luck reaping value from the majority of that technology. And data collection shouldn’t be limited to your most frequent or high-spending customers. By collecting data on each one of your customers, no matter how little or insignificant that data may seem, you’re able to deliver a better experience the next time they choose to shop with you. As the saying goes, “You don’t have a customer until they’ve shopped with you a second time,” and you better believe that in this day and age, converting customers rests almost solely on the data you collect on them and how well you use it.
What omnichannel strategies are you implementing at your stores? Share your thoughts with us here, or connect with us on Twitter @CQuotient.