In a time when almost everyone seems to be shopping online, are brick-and-mortar shops still relevant?
They are – and in most cases, a physical store could increase sales based on factors like location, level of customer service, and availability of products. Today, it’s not enough to simply have a website OR a showroom. You need BOTH. Retailers must understand that the future rests on being able to properly integrate customer on- and offline experiences.
In order to do this, you must first understand consumer behavior. Why do they go online for purchases? What prompts them to visit a physical store? Recognizing buying signals equip retailers with the knowledge they need to develop smarter, more personalized services.
Why People Shop Online
According to Statista, about 191.1 million people were digital shoppers in the U.S. alone. This number is expected to rise to 200 million in 2015. These consumers not only bought products; they compared prices, researched related merchandise, and read reviews.
The number one reason people go online is not to buy something, at least not initially, but rather to look up items. The modern shopper usually has less time, energy, and resources to stroll through rows and rows of shops. So they turn to the Web for convenience and information on the things they need.
Online consumers also love to compare prices and explore related items. During this process, they may visit multiple websites, hunting down the best deals, discounts, or special promos. They also read reviews. Retailers who understand these concepts will integrate special features (such as personalized product carousels) on their digital channels to cater to consumers’ top online behaviors.
Why People Shop In Stores
Although digital shopping has made more products and services available to a wider market range, nothing beats buying at brick-and-mortar stores. This idea is explained in a paper co-authored by Wharton marketing professor, David Bell.
The paper gathered data from two cities with on- and offline shops of prescription eyeglasses brand, Warby Parker. One city had a Warby Parker showroom, while the other didn’t. Surprisingly, the city with the showroom showed a nine percent increase in sales, while its online shop also showed positive results with 3.5 percent more orders.
Another great thing, Bell pointed out, is that product returns fell. This is good news because most e-retailers experience plenty of returns due to customer dissatisfaction or disappointment. It’s different going to the store to see, feel, and inspect an item. This ‘human touch’ is what makes in-store experiences different from online shopping. When people see a store, it makes the brand feel more real.
Aside from physical contact with the object you’re about to buy, shops that cleverly use frontline sales personnel create more opportunities by offering personalized assistance. They will answer questions about the merchandise, recommend related products, or provide convenient solutions to customer issues (such as pre-ordering out of stock items). Plus, there’s no waiting when you buy in-store.
Clearing the Path from the Web to the Store
In order for online consumers to be drawn to a physical store (and vice versa), retailers need to minimize friction so that purchasing becomes an enjoyable experience instead of a chore.
There are three things that make up a pleasant shopping experience. These are:
- Convenience (location)
- Consistency of information
- Personalized service
Knowledge on digital marketing – especially local search engine optimization (SEO) – can help nudge retailers in the right direction. That’s because local SEO elements are specially designed to optimize businesses with brick-and-mortar stores. By gaining more visibility online, you increase your chances of drawing attention to your physical shop.
Remember that the number one reason people go online is to look up product information. So first and foremost, make sure that your website can be seen on organic search results, Google maps, and the Local Carousel, which are also available on mobile devices.
Do this by listing your business on local citations such as Google Local, Yelp, and Yahoo Local Business. Use Whitespark’s local citation finder tool if you need more resources. These are focused on location and provide consumers with other important details such as reviews, store hours, and directions.
According to Google’s 2014 study, 54 percent of consumers are particular with business hours when searching on their smartphones, while 45 percent want in-store availability information when on their tablets and PC’s. This means people are willing to visit an actual store as long as they were able to find relevant data online. In fact, a good 18 percent of smartphone searches led to REAL purchases compared to those who didn’t bother with local search.
Consistency of Information
Now that you have optimized your presence online, it’s time to ensure that all your information is consistent across all channels. Nothing is more frustrating to a consumer than finding out that you have the wrong address on Yelp, or that your store hours are different on your website than on Facebook.
Go a step further and put relevant information upfront where customers can easily spot them. Aside from operation hours, contact details, and directions, people appreciate seeing what’s available for sale. Place promos, discounts, new arrivals, and coupons on landing pages. Just make sure that a product that’s listed as available is really on-hand – otherwise, you risk frustrating the customer for inconsistent information.
Check that your business name is not misspelled. Employ clearly labeled links or buttons for single-click accessibility. Verify that your phone number is correct and that it works. Consumers love it when there are many ways to reach you. Local citations (especially those on Google Local) provide reviews as well. So after a good experience with your shop, don’t forget to encourage customers to leave their feedback.
Once you show people how easy it is to shop at your website or app, it’s time to tease them into buying at your store. Sometimes, customers are hesitant about taking that final step to check-out because they want to ‘feel’ the products for themselves. Here’s where integrated digital and physical channels come into play.
Personalized services such as ‘buy online, pickup in-store’ are a great way to provide additional convenience for your customer. Stores such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Target are already implementing this strategy. They can simply add items on their cart, choose which ones they want to pick up, and then leave the rest to you. They skip long lines and at the same time, they don’t need to wait for delivery of their merchandise.
You can also include in-store photos and videos in your website to show customers how you do business. A lot of people prefer brick-and-mortar stores because they like talking to knowledgeable sales personnel about their choices. If possible, include a Live Chat feature on your app or website.
Educate your staff on how to accommodate modern consumers through the smart use of in-store technology (such as digital kiosks and tablets for showcasing different product features).
Having both on- and offline presence reinforces your brand in customers’ minds. No strategy is too small when it comes to providing the best consumer service. Remember: competition is cut-throat nowadays. The only way to stand out is to offer a unified experience shopping experience. One that provides quick, easy access to your products, but at the same time gives people the option of connecting with your brand on a deeper level.
SEO consultant Al Gomez is the man behind SEOExpertPage.com and Dlinkers, a company dedicated to complete digital marketing services. With more than nine years of experience, he enjoys supporting smartpreneurs like himself achieve online success.
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