For more than three decades, brick-and-mortar stores have been waging a battle against online retailers. Every year, online stores gain more of the market share. In recent years, several chains that were once retail giants have been forced to declare bankruptcy, close many of their locations or sell their brand to a competitor. Although the fight has been deemed as hopeless by some, the reality is that brick-and-mortar retailers do not need to abandon ship yet. They just need to use every tool available to encourage shoppers to opt for in-store purchases.
Learn More about Your Customers
Most retailers have an idea of who their target customers are, such as women between the ages of 18 and 30 or married couples over the age of 50. Fewer retailers know what percentage of their profits are actually provided by the target groups, however. The simple truth is that unless you know who your customers are and what they want, you cannot satisfy them.
You must engage your customers where they are most likely to be. If your ideal customer is a senior citizen of modest financial means, you are probably not going to reach many of them on the social networking sites. If your target customers are middle-income couples under the age of 30, you need to incorporate mobile marketing.
To learn more about your customers, you must ensure that analytics are incorporated in your marketing efforts. You need to know which campaigns resulted in increased traffic, which means that you need to analyze how the customers received the message. Tie campaigns to a specific discount code or coupon, for example, or ask them where they learned of your store when they opt-in to be notified of special sales.
Learn More about Your Customers' In-store Habits
Once you attract customers to your store, you need to know how they behave while they are shopping. In which direction does traffic tend to flow? Place your in-store, interactive kiosks along the most heavily traveled routes. How long do they linger in front of your store window before entering? If your window display is not encouraging them to walk through your door, look for ways to change it. What department do customers tend to visit after leaving baby furniture (or books, shoes or any other department)? Use digital signage to cross-sell items in the second department. In short, you need to learn everything you can about how your customers behave while they are in your store.
Interact with Your Customers
After reading the two sections above, you might be wondering how you can possibly learn these things about your customers and their habits. The answer is twofold -- you must interact with them. (To be more precise, you must get them to interact with you.) Encourage them to use in-store kiosks to log in to a rewards program or print a coupon. Offer special sales to customers who register for your electronic newsletter. Make wish lists and gift registries available through your kiosks. A great deal of information can be gleaned from the information customers enter when they choose to register for one of your offerings.
The second part of the equation is to use the latest technology. Near-field communications, such as the type used in iBeacons, can recognize when a customer's iPhone enters or leaves an area. While within your store, the customer's path can be tracked to determine the route as well as the amount of time spent in each department. You can analyze the information for future use, such as determining which customers are repeat visitors. You can also push information to the customer's phone, such as transmitting a special discount coupon that is only valid for a few hours.
Drive Traffic to Your Physical Store
Naturally, to secure the analytics you need or effectively interact with your customers, you have to get them to your brick-and-mortar store first. What you may view as your biggest competitor -- the Internet -- can also be one of your staunchest allies. You can use social media sites, email campaigns or your own website to encourage customers to shop at your brick-and-mortar location. (Be sure that your message is seamlessly integrated across all channels and accessible to mobile devices.)
One method that some retailers are beginning to use is to offer sales prices that are only valid for in-store purchases. This works best if you have a valid reason for doing so. Perhaps quantities are too limited to offer items online or the item's weight would make shipping prohibitively high.
Offer customers a reason to visit your store besides making a purchase. You might offer a free craft project for their children, a meet-and-greet with a local author or discounted tickets to a local event. You could volunteer to be a drop-off location for a community food drive or allow local youth groups to set up a table to sell their fundraiser products.
Enhance Your Customers' Buying Experience
Getting a customer into your store is only the first step. Making a sale is the next step, but it is far from the final one. You want every customer to return many times and make multiple purchases. In other words, you want to turn each new visitor to your store into a lifetime customer.
Accomplishing this goal means that you need to enhance the buying experience for your customers. This phrase has been bandied about for years, but its precise definition remains somewhat fluid and elusive. What one customer might consider a welcome enhancement another might find an annoyance. Therefore, the exact nature of an enhanced buying experience may vary, depending on the nature of your business and your clientele.
In general, however, there are certain elements that are normally considered as positive enhancements. These include:
- Rewarding repeat business
- Personalizing the experience
- Cultivating knowledgeable employees who also possess good "people skills"
- Providing employees with the tools, such as mobile devices, that they need to serve your customers
- Maintaining a clean, attractive store
- Expediting the checkout procedure, such as using mobile devices to allow clerks to collect payment from anywhere on the sales floor or making sure that you maintain the correct staffing
Summing it Up
Although the road has been rocky for brick-and-mortar stores for many years, online retailers simply cannot provide identical benefits. By being proactive, however, you can give customers reasons to visit your store to make their purchases. It might require embracing new technology or changing your perceptions, but you can compete with online retailers.