E-commerce is experiencing massive growth year after year, shattering records while doing so. There was a time when brick-and-mortar stores were not merely profitable, but also highly influential.
Take, for example, Sears. If there were ever a legacy brand that defined American capitalism, it would have been this one. First opened in 1892, Sears began as a mail-order firm that became the largest retailer in America. The brand had stores located on almost every Main Street or in each suburban shopping mall. Sears even diversified its offerings to customers, such as offering insurance through Allstate and credit through Discover.
Unfortunately, just six months after Toys “R” Us closed its doors, Sears was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2018, resulting in massive Sears retailer closures.
Of course, Sears is certainly not the only brick-and-mortar retailer to close up shop. In the U.S. and the UK alone, more than 12,000 stores have closed for good over the past year, a 200 percent increase over 2016.
Yet, interestingly, the overwhelming majority of sales still take place in physical stores.
To help get to the bottom of this phenomenon, Sailthru surveyed 2,000 American and British consumers about their attitudes toward physical retail. The survey included questions about what emerging technologies can improve, using both the in-store and online shopping experiences. Those being surveyed were also asked which online retailers they’d like to see open physical stores.
Do Customers Miss Retailers When They’re Gone?
According to the survey, most people aren’t even aware when a retailer closes. What’s more, when presented with a list of legacy retailers, like Sears or Toys “R” Us, and asked which they would miss the most, the more frequent answer was “none.” At the same time, consumers still overwhelmingly (51.7 percent in the U.S.; 58 percent in the UK) believe these closures have negatively impacted their neighborhoods.
While customers may not miss legacy stores, 40 percent of American consumers want to see more Amazon stores appear offline, while Brits are largely indifferent. The good news for customers is that Amazon has pledged to open 3,000 physical stores by 2021.
What Customers Really Want in an In-Store Experience
This survey also revealed that technology definitely factors into the in-store shopping experience. This is particularly true of email and mobile messages. Approximately 25 percent of UK consumers chose to act by visiting a store or redeeming a discount, thanks to email. In the U.S., roughly one-third of customers were prompted to action to redeem a discount or purchase a recommended item, with most responding to push notifications.
The survey also found that the following innovations have successfully been able to enhance the in-store experience:
- Being able to try or purchase items in-store and having them shipped home. This is especially true of older consumers.
- The ability to accept mobile payments like Apple Pay.
- Having associates check out without a register.
- Using in-app loyalty cards for purchases.
- Being able to book time with a sales associate online in advance.
How Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Use Technology to Improve the In-Store Experience
For brick-and-mortar stores to compete with E-commerce stores, they not only have to know what their customers want, but they also need to adapt everything — from their marketing strategies to their pricing to their product offerings. Here’s how you can get started with relative ease.
- Start selling your products online. Only having a physical location limits your potential. If you haven’t done so yet, create an E-commerce site so you can join the E-commerce playing field. This will keep you competitive, and it can also generate multiple streams of income.
- Embrace multichannel marketing. This is where you utilize offline and online marketing channels to target and engage your specific audience. For example, when a customer checks out in-person, ask for his or her email address or phone number. This enables the customer to receive exclusive coupons and discounts, resulting in future purchases. If you use geofencing and the customer is in your store’s proximity, he or she will receive a coupon or discount to encourage a stop at your store.
- Focus on a niche. What makes your business unique? Instead of trying to be a one-stop shop, focus on marketing the hyperfocused offerings that differentiate your business from others.
- Emphasize speed and convenience. While it may seem that online shopping is more convenient, brick-and-mortar stores have one major advantage: instant gratification. For example, if a customer comes into your store to purchase a new appliance, offer same-day delivery or even free local pickup if you don’t have the item in stock.
- Be competitive with your prices. Price matching may seem like an uphill battle. However, speak with your vendors to see if they’ll lower the cost of goods. You can also offer better deals in-store and offer customized discounts by segmenting your customers based on previous purchases or demographics.
- Create a helpful environment for customers. Regardless of whether it’s online or offline, nothing trumps customer service. It only takes one poor experience to make a negative and long-lasting impact on a customer. For example, if you don’t have an item in stock, have an associate order the item for the customer online while he’s standing right next to him.
- Start using bots to assist customers during off-hours. When emailing customers, make sure you tell them what steps to take next, and ask for their feedback so you know which areas to improve.
Just because you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer doesn’t mean that your online competitors are going to put you out of business. Remember, customers actually get more satisfaction from shopping in-store. The catch? You have to create an experience that will make your customers keep coming back and back again.