The decline of brick-and-mortar retail in America has been well documented: U.S. merchants are closing thousands of stores each year, and the long list of retailers that went bankrupt in 2019 includes everyone from luxury candy makers to flower delivery companies.
Though the apparent magnitude of the sector’s decline might be shocking, its cause is abundantly clear. Online shopping is eating retail. This is evidenced by the stark increase in what the average U.S. household spends online in a year — $5,200 in 2018. That’s an almost 50% uptick compared to 2013, according to UBS.
If you’re the owner of one or more of these stores, what are you to do?
You likely know the old saying “If you can’t beat them – join them.” It certainly applies here. That’s not to say you should take your operation completely online; you’ll still have competition there. Chin up. As the owner of a physical store, you actually have a few things going for you.
For one, even though Millennials, currently the largest U.S. consumer group, make most of their purchases online, they do still buy in-store 40% of the time, which is no small number. And secondly, when shopping for items like apparel or furniture, there are obvious advantages to first seeing merchandise in person. Thirdly, your retail space also gives you opportunities to hold events and promotions that wouldn’t be possible if your only storefront was digital.
Furthermore, 71% of customers who shopped in-store spent $50 or more compared to only 54% of customers who spent more than $50 when they shopped online, according to a First Insight study.
That gives hope to store owners striving to cultivate loyalty in an age where consumers have an endless amount of choice. To stay competitive, incorporate digital elements into the physical shopping experience you’re offering your customers. Here are three ways to start:
1. Don’t fear digital channels — embrace them.
Having a brick-and-mortar store doesn’t mean avoiding online and mobile shopping entirely. We love our phones, and around 63% of consumers rely on their mobile devices while shopping in-store. They’re comparing prices, searching for discounts and online coupons, checking to make sure items are in stock, looking at recipes and outfits and lots more. If you don’t offer mobile point-of-sale capabilities in your store, you’re missing out on potential sales, especially if your customers skew younger. Customers aren’t the only skilled mobile users. In the hands of your employees, phones can become powerful selling tools.
Empower your staff to use mobile devices to help customers on the sales floor—whether to look up inventory data or product information or something else. Nordstrom even lets shoppers skip long lines by deploying mobile POS devices, helping the retailer minimize in-store shopping cart abandonment and drive more sales. Also allow customers the option to buy products online and pick them up in your store. In doing so you’ll capitalize on the advantages of online shopping, while simultaneously drawing consumers into your brick-and-mortar space. Give them opportunities to engage with your brand further when they get there.
2. Create an interactive experience.
You want to sell stuff, but for consumers, shopping at brick-and-mortar stores is about more than just purchases. Increasingly, retailers are enabling shoppers to experience products in ways they can’t while sitting at home on their couch. “Hooking customers with lots of options and fickle loyalties requires forward-thinking retailers to adopt cutting-edge technologies. Advancements like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things empower retailers to deliver a seamless, singular experience,” explains Scott Schoeneberger, managing partner at Bluewater, a technology company. “The goal isn’t to stuff stores with tech but to elegantly embed tech in ways that genuinely upgrade the in-store experience.”
Fortunately for store owners, repeat experiences often lead to sales. If you can make the in-store experience meaningful and memorable, you can turn buyers into loyal fans. Not sure where to start? Just look at Neiman Marcus. The apparel seller installed digital “memory mirrors” into its dressing rooms so that shoppers could record themselves trying on clothes, allowing them to see new looks from all angles. They also made clips sharable, so that shoppers could ask advice from friends without ever leaving the dressing room.
3. Personalize in-store experiences with data.
Marketers love digital marketing because it provides them with the thing they probably crave the most: data. This isn’t surprising considering how data is able to give companies a better picture of who their customers are and what they may want to purchase. Many online storefronts use customer behavior data to feed machine-learning algorithms that power recommendation engines, ad-delivery platforms and other selling mechanisms. For example, Sephora emails product suggestions to customers based on their individual recent purchases. The store uses that information to make a personalized and educated recommendation to customers for what they should buy next.
This perk is not specific to online-only retailers. Brick-and-mortar retailers can benefit from this data, too. What’s more, your physical store can take this type of personalization up a notch. For that, you’ll need an in-store POS that enables you to collect and store customer information. When shoppers go to check out after deciding on a purchase, your associates can ask questions that help them build a shopper profile. That data can be used to inform future sales, events, inventory changes and more. You can also use digital receipts, which require you to obtain real customer email addresses, to connect shoppers with past purchases and begin painting a more complete picture of their behavior and preferences.
Contrary to what you may have heard, physical retail isn’t going to disappear completely. It must change, however. If you’re the owner of a brick-and-mortar store, help lead the evolution of physical retail by harnessing the power of the digital tactics above.