Now that customers have the ability to shop when and where they want online, the need to ever enter a store is rapidly declining. Brick-and-mortar retailers are all working to figure out their strategies for the fairly new phenomenon of “showrooming,” where consumers browse in-store and buy their products online, often from a competitor.
This new shopping landscape gives consumers access to more merchandise choices than ever before and presents brick-and-mortar retailers with a series of new challenges. In the Age of the Connected Consumer, people are now being provided with an end-to-end shopping experience that includes the traditional brick-and-mortar store as well as an immersive online or digital experience.
Even in this new landscape, the physical store can continue to be a strong asset for retailers, delivering valuable things e-commerce services can’t:
1. Immediate Gratification
Our society enjoys and desires instant gratification. We want what we want and we typically want it now. The beauty of a brick-and-mortar store is that we purchase the items we want—from the latest in fashion to the newest gadget—and have the luxury of taking them home at that moment in time for immediate enjoyment.
2. The Sensory Experience
Unlike online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores have the ability to engage all of the customer’s five senses. They can fully express how the brand looks, sounds, smells, feels, and even tastes. The online world only appeals to the visual, and sometimes auditory, senses. As evidence continues to reflect that a multi-sensory experience leads to increased in-store spending, more and more retailers are beginning to embrace a sensory engagement process that triggers a “shopper’s high” and creates an emotional and memorable interaction. In turn, customers stay in the store longer, have positive emotions about their time spent in the store, and walk away with increased brand value perceptions.
3. The Human Connection
Another advantage brick-and-mortar retailers have over those that operate online is the ability to forge the in-person (or human) connection. Despite the average person’s desire to email, text and shop online, we are still very human and enjoy contact with others. Being able to discuss product differences with knowledgeable sales staff or receive guidance to find merchandise is no longer an expected service of retailers but a valuable differentiator and touchpoint in the customer experience. Just remember that you can only capitalize on and promote the value of the human connection if you have the appropriate staff levels and have provided them with the necessary training for success.
4. Personal Service
With the Internet, smartphones, and tablets in tow, consumers are more empowered than ever to do research on the products they are looking to buy, pre-empting what a salesperson can tell them. This rise in consumer self-sufficiency, as well as in-store self-service, has sparked a lot of discussion around the value that in-store sales associates offer. Some retailers have taken this trend as an opportunity to downsize their staffing requirements, while others have innovated with the introduction of personal service to create a new, heightened, and differentiated brand experience. One example is Wegman’s, who has introduced produce experts in their stores who chop fresh vegetables and fruits in the aisle so shoppers can take home customized mixes for salads and stir-fry dishes.
Brick-and-mortar retailers need not dismay. Focusing on these four natural advantages over online retailers is the path to maintaining in-store traffic.