Can You Learn From Brick-And-Mortars?

'Yes,' says veteran seller Kathy Terrill.

by Brad and Debra Schepp
- Jul 06, 2015

You may remember our series featuring Kathy Terrill and the wisdom she's gained through more than a decade as an online seller. With so much success in e-commerce, you would think Terrill has left behind much of the wisdom and sales insight she gathered through the three decades she worked in retail sales of the brick-and-mortar variety.

Your headers, banners, logos and color choices matter… As you're looking at your online listings or shop, you should ask yourself questions like, 'Are they clean, crisp, professional looking?'

After all, with her thriving eBay business and her own website,, she should be all about online sales, don't you think? Actually, no.

Terrill still takes regular excursions into these physical marketplaces, but now she visits as a researcher/student. We recently caught up with her at a popular presentation at the 2015 eBay Radio Party and Conference called Are You Macy's or Bergdorf's? What You Can Learn from Brick-and-Mortar Retail.

Why does brick-and-mortar matter?

The seller's interest in what's going on in the big department stores is based on solid facts. "Did you know that according to the U.S. Census of 2014, over 93 percent of total retail sales are in brick-and-mortar stores?" Terrill asks on her blog, I Love To Be Selling. "That means that less than 10 percent of retail is online!"

"Any, I repeat, any brick-and-mortar store has a pot of gold inside with retail information for the savvy online seller," she enthusiastically noted. "I would encourage you to follow/research the brick-and-mortar stores that carry similar products to yours."

As soon as you walk through the door, you'll notice the colors they use, the inventory and the displays they create to entice shoppers. These are all things you can adapt to your online presence. "What is the store showing you?" she asked. "Is it a sale? Is it a season?"

If a sale is being featured, study the items offered and use that information for your own inventory, she noted. Do you have anything similar? Is it time for you to run a sale on those types of items, too?

It's all about ambiance

Beyond the specifics of inventory, Terrill turns to her physical shopping trips to gain insights about branding her own online business.

"Ambiance is branding!" she told listeners during the session. Although you are physically surrounded by that ambiance when you walk into a store, you can build an ambiance into your online business, too.

"Your headers, banners, logos and color choices matter," she noted. As you're looking at your online listings or shop, you should ask yourself questions like, "Are they clean, crisp, professional looking?" the seller said. You need to make your items look as good as physical stores do because with more than nine out of 10 customers shopping in brick-and-mortars, these destinations are as much your competition as other online sellers.

Listen to the other shoppers. What are they talking about? What TV shows? What products? What news?

Luckily, when you enter these establishments as a customer, you have ample time to see what they do and emulate what seems relevant to you.

But don't just look at the items and colors in the shops. Listen to the sales staff and other shoppers, too. When we asked her what you can learn from the sales staff, she was quick to reply.

"Wow! What won't you learn from salespeople?" she replied. "What's hot? What's new? What's in demand?" And as for your fellow shoppers, well, that's a gold mine, too. "Listen to the other shoppers," she added. "What are they talking about? What TV shows? What products? What news?"

Notice if they're focusing on saving money and check out what's in their shopping carts to see what items they've chosen.

Help them 'touch' items

Online sellers can improve their customer service through careful study of brick-and-mortar stores, too. "In some stores it's very hard to find salespeople, let alone knowledgeable ones," Terrill said. Here's an area where you can really beat the brick-and-mortar establishments!

"When you get a customer service issue, answer immediately," she explained. "Even if it's just to say, 'I'll check on X and get back to you by X.'" Then do it. If the resulting information is less than your shopper was hoping for, at least you've made a solid impression as a professional who is interested in pleasing the customer. That is bound to leave a good impression for the next time your shopper is shopping.

But how can online sellers compete with the more tangible elements of shopping in brick-and-mortars? Some shoppers just need to touch and feel what they buy.

You can shoot a short and effective video of an expensive item or a product that moves, upload it to YouTube and embed the link to the bottom of your eBay listing. It's a great way to stand out

"I compete with great titles," Terrill replied. "I use all my item specifics, product identifiers and pictures from every angle."

She also doesn't hesitate to use videos. "You can shoot a short and effective video of an expensive item or a product that moves, upload it to YouTube and embed the link to the bottom of your eBay listing," she said. "It's a great way to stand out, keep shoppers on your listing longer and lets them 'touch' your item."

Terrill also includes careful measurements, since her inventory includes clothing. In addition, she shows her shoppers she's friendly and knowledgeable about her items. Plus, she ships fast and makes sure returns are problem-free. Putting all these things together can encourage shoppers to take a chance online, especially if checkout is seamless.

In person, there's the serendipity factor of going into a store and finding that the thing you've been thinking about is suddenly on sale. How do online sellers compete with that?

"Surprising shoppers?" Terrill asked. With a chuckle she explained that this is a very long and extensive topic, but she did have some advice from the "real" world. "From being in stores a lot, and on social media, you get a feel for what is trending and you learn to anticipate seasons," she explained. "I post and offer that while keeping my inventory in mind, which is exactly what retail does."

If you'd like to learn more about Terrill's brick-and-mortar wisdom, check out her blog. She even offers her readers a tip sheet they can print and take with them to the shopping center so they can have her advice handy as they visit. And if you'd like to catch Terrill in person, she will be a featured speaker at John Lawson's Colderice Boot Camp in New York on Aug. 14 and Aug.15. In the meantime, go shopping! And, do it often!

About the Author

Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book, which Deb co-authored with John Lawson, Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs: It's Not About Likes—It's About Sales, was recently named the 2015 Small Business Book of the Year in the social media category.

For further information, visit Brad and Deb's website,

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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