PwC has found that while 27% of consumers buy something online at least once a week, some 40% of consumers also still buy in a physical store each week.
The reasons for preferring to shop in-store include being able to try on and ‘feel’ the products, the ease of returns, and access to better information. Many shoppers say they’re already shopping in the location anyway, so they might as well walk into the store. Many shoppers also believe that buying in-store is safer and more reliable.
That’s not to say that everything has been rosy in retail-land, but as Pam Danziger said in Forbes magazine recently, “the signs are promising. Retailers have come through a time of trial, and many of the ones that have survived have made the necessary adjustments to align with evolving consumer needs and desires.”
With this in mind, it’s worthwhile considering the factors that will help retail stores evolve and adapt, to stay relevant.
“Retail success in 2018 will be about how well retailers adapt to the changing market around them and the evolution of their customers’ needs.” – Rupa Ganatra, founding partner, Millennial 20/20
Step 1 – Know thy customers
The key to continuing to attract buyers is to get to know who is coming to your store and why. Create customer profiles built on their past purchases and shopping behaviour, reward them for completing surveys, hold events and be active on social media, and ask for online reviews.
And don’t just gather the data, use it. Segment your email lists and target those segments with offers, create newsletters that speak to the habits, desires and purchasing patterns of each segment. Use social media to conduct short, sharp promotions aimed at certain groups and track the response.
Staff training is also crucial in better personalising the in-store experience for the customer. Give your staff incentives for getting to know the people that come into the shop, to understand their habits and interact with them without being overpowering or insistent.
Step 2 – Make the brand experience your customers’ number 1 take-away
Define your brand offering and the market segments it targets, and ensure that every aspect of the customer experience, whether online or in-store, feeds into and reinforces the brand experience. Consider the store layout, the choices on offer (too many? too few?) and the customer expectations when walking into the store.
You may need to consider relocating to a smaller store, or to an area where your preferred markets are better represented. You may even consider specialising rather than trying to broaden your offering so much that your brand identity is lost.
The objective is to take the stress and confusion out of shopping for your customers, so make shopping in-store easier for them. That means ensuring that the online components of your marketing match and promote the physical experience, and making the act of shopping with you a pleasure, wherever they encounter you.
Step 3 – Give customers good reasons to visit your stores
The in-store experience needs to be sufficiently interesting, exciting or rewarding enough for customers to overcome the compulsion to take the easy way out and shop online.
This begins with your retail space. Does it give customers an easy, enjoyable and positive shopping experience? Does it enhance their impression of the brand and encourage them to repeat the experience? If not, consider ways of making the retail space more inviting, more efficient for shopping and more memorable.
Also create a buzz in the store through events, incentives and appealing atmospherics.
“Savvy retailers are already starting to offer gifts with purchase and in-store discounts to try to break the new online-only consumer spending pattern. To justify the expense of their brick-and-mortar stores, retailers need to start giving time-starved consumers a reason to travel and shop in-person.” – Marcia Layton Turner, founder and executive director, the Association of Ghostwriters.
Conclusion: in-store shopping is not dead, but it does need revitalising
As Neil Stern of retail consultants McMillan Doolittle says, “2018 will be the year of execution.”
The way to win the battle of retail versus cyber space is to create synergies between your online and offline presences, to make the shopping environment and experience as attractive, stress-free and rewarding as possible, and to do it now.
If you need to, get professional help on the various aspects of improving, re-aligning or even reinventing the store space. It’s an investment that will pay off.