Some say e-commerce turned 20 in 2014. Others disagree. But we can all agree e-commerce is here to stay. But what of brick-and-mortar stores?
Some shoppers want that personal connection when shopping and making a purchase. Brick-and-mortar has that
For at least a decade, many have proclaimed brick-and-mortars are nearing the end, supported by the fact that many major retailers have downsized, filed for bankruptcy or even shut down. (Anyone remember Circuit City?
But just because some have struggled or even ceased to exist, there are plenty that are still in business and still attracting customers. Just look at the retail parking lots.
To this end, you're inviting trouble to your online business if you ignore the persistent presence of those physical stores around you. They're still quite the formidable foes and they're working harder than ever to steal your customers. Here are some reasons brick-and-mortar isn't dead and what you should be doing to make sure it doesn't lure away your customer base.
The human connection
As major outlets have struggled in this new millennium, it seemed apparent that e-commerce had won the hearts, minds and mobile devices of the modern-day consumer. And, yet, many stores are still standing and many are entertaining impressive numbers of customers every day. The data says sales are in decline, but the aisle ways suggest different.
Brick-and-mortar stores are still attracting customers mainly through a sort of backlash that has been occurring among cyber-shoppers. Instant access to product information is available online and on the go, but that has come at a loss of physical interaction.
At first, the novelty of shopping via text, images and videos was enough to convince tech-minded buyers to abandon a trip to the local store. Today, though, some of those same shoppers want that personal—some say emotional—connection when shopping and making a purchase. Brick-and-mortar has that; it always had. E-commerce doesn't; it never did.
Brick-and-mortars have effectively attacked the online pricing wars by offering to price match on the spot
The brick-and-mortar stores have struggled with the matter of selection. Fully outfitting a retail store with everything imaginable simply wasn't feasible. An Amazon.com, however, can offer much more since it didn't need to "dress" the goods for sale. It only has to warehouse them in a truly unattractive-but-efficient hangar whirring and churning with automated product pickers and miles of rolling conveyor.
It's a perfect solution for selling and shipping what a decisive buyer knows she wants, but what about those who aren't quite sure yet? Haven't they been left out in this entire search, point and purchase fulfillment? They have, and that's what brick-and-mortar has become wise to.
Look at your inclinations when it comes to shopping. Do you still prefer to visit a store to touch and try products?
Online shopping can annoy
The online destinations are great for doing your preliminary research, but when it comes time to make a purchase, do you still seek a physical location where you can try before you buy?
Many shoppers do. They're now realizing shopping, which has long been as entertaining as it has been merely sustaining, has been dulled by the online experience. Assaulted by ads and distracting navigation, shoppers are becoming annoyed by an online shopping experience that is too reminiscent of the shouting in a local car dealer's television spot. It's enough to make us want to shout back, "shut up and let me shop!"
Brick-and-mortar has learned, albeit slowly, that today's consumer is highly informed yet still wants some assistance in making a choice.
Salespeople in the physical stores are operating now as product consultants or specialists, able to assist in the decision-making process that might help the customer choose to make the purchase. And when the decision has been made and the product is in hand and ready to be enjoyed immediately (as opposed to being shipped over a several-days wait), that customer is often choosing to buy in-store rather than online. Smartest of all, brick-and-mortars have effectively attacked the online pricing wars by offering to price match on the spot. Smart, very smart.
Come out on top
All of this makes it quite clear that the old-fashioned storefronts of yesteryear aren't planning to die anytime soon. Therefore, it's important you, the online retailer, take steps to counter the brick-and-mortar presence, and who'd have ever thought we'd be entertaining such a notion these days?
Offer additional incentives for repeat purchases from your online store. For instance, buy three and get one half off
Here's what you might consider doing to stay astride of the physical store evolution:
- Invite your customers to compare what they've seen in the stores with what you're offering online. This encourages them to get that emotional connection with a product then consider the benefit of purchasing from you directly afterward. To this end, you'll want to provide a statement of that benefit (after-purchase support and information, shipping benefit, guarantee or return policy).
- Do a turnabout and offer to match brick-and-mortar pricing. If you can establish a relationship with your customers such that they prefer to buy from you, let them know you'll match (or beat?) a retail sales price.
- Offer additional incentives for repeat purchases from your online store. For instance, buy three and get one half off. Be creative in thinking of ways to keep your customers happily choosing you over the stores down the street.
These are just a few ideas. The point is that you need to be aware of what's happening in the brick-and-mortar space. Just as the stores had to cope with and adjust to the advent of online shopping, it's now your turn to recognize that physical retailers are your competition.
The best news about this is that, as always, competition usually brings out the best of online sellers.