Going to the Mattresses: How Brick-and-Mortars Can Combat Online Shopping

Anyone who’s worked in retail has experienced this scenario at some point: a needy customer monopolizes your time, asking incessant questions, sampling products, and mining your expertise, only to leave the store and purchase that item online for less money. It’s exhausting, infuriating, and detrimental not only to the future of brick-and-mortar shops, but also the value of quality customer service. Employees become jaded and annoyed, which reflects in subsequent customer relations, leading to a nasty cycle of poor communication and overall discontent.

The good news is that not all customers are like “the guy-with-too-many-questions”. And most people do still appreciate the quality of service that can only be found in a brick-and-mortar store. Even with companies like Amazon and eBay revolutionizing the way people shop, customers still want to interact with a product in person. And that means that physical retailers still hold most of the cards. The trick is learning how to play them.

Understand What You’re Up Against

Online shopping has its advantages. Customers aren’t hindered by long lines, limited choice, or poor customer service. They can browse from the couch in their pajamas, easily compare Yakima and Thule prices, apply coupon code-searching apps, and then pay with one click. And unfortunately for many physical retailers, most customers expect this same level of ease, speed, and price-point when they do decide to make an in-store appearance.

The Telegraph reports that “online marketplaces are pushing boundaries all the time. They know people are becoming used to the convenience of the internet, so they are looking for ways to keep people amused.” And they’re succeeding. Shoppers are dazzled online, with attractive websites and streamlined payment processes. And many online retailers have diversified their strategies, becoming adeptly “omnichannel”, meaning that all shopping experiences are seamless across all devices.

Even the Score

So, take some cues from the big guys, and see if you can employ any of their tactics. Remember, Amazon has the kind of budget that can sustain extensive marketing research. They have experts and surveys to unpack people’s ever-changing shopping habits, as well as top-of-the-line marketers who can translate that data into dollars. So, draw some inspiration from their strategies.

  • Could your website use a facelift?
  • How does it look when people browse it from their cell phone?
  • Do you have a website?

Get in the trenches and fight fire with fire. Show your customers that you’re accessible. You’re interested in drawing new customers, and willing to evolve with consumer technology. Try offering “order online, pick-up in store” services. Send out a weekly or monthly newsletter highlighting in-store promotions. Feature different customer builds and invite shoppers to come check out products in person. In short, allow your online presence to work for you, by directing customers into the store. Once there, you can showcase your expertise, encourage them to interact with inventory, and build upon a sale.

Know Your Audience

Understanding who exactly you’re selling to is vitally important if you ever expect to see success. Does your shop sell lifestyle accessories that appeal to a variety of recreational enthusiasts? Or are you a manufacturer, developing a specialty product that solves a very specific problem? Who is your target demographic? These things matter when trying to entice customers away from big name online retailers and into a brick-and-mortar location where they can get a true feel for your product.

For example, Baby Boomers often value strong customer service, simple checkout procedures, and an easy-to-maneuver sales floor. Millennials and Gen Z’ers on the other hand, have been raised on a diet rich in all things digital. They value in-store experiences, state-of-the-art technology, and a brand that stands for something.

The online marketing plan for a business that sells classic hot rod accessories looks very different from the guy who sells hands-free telematics technology for fleet vehicles. And so should those displays in a store. Tactics like digital signage, product demonstrations, or information kiosks can go a long way with customers who want all the facts before buying, but want to experience them differently.

And Let Them Know You

What’s more, prospective customers shouldn’t have to do any legwork to discover what exactly it is that you’re selling. It should be loud and clear when shoppers click on your website, visit your Facebook, walk in to your store, or catch your ad in the Sunday bulletin. Fine tune your presence across channels, and don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Encouraging customers to “Shop local!” and hoping that they’ll extrapolate how that translates into community goodwill, isn’t enough: show them. Does your store give back in any way? Are you involved in any local charities? Do you offer military discounts? Show customers that shopping at your store can stand for something more than a simple transaction.

Play Your Ace

Facing the challenge of online shopping can feel like a losing battle at times. Upgrading to newer technology, developing a digital presence, and beefing up customer loyalty programs are all excellent tactics to drive foot traffic. But the strongest card in your deck is s-e-r-v-i-c-e. Nothing will convince people more that they need to come to a physical location than excellent customer service.

Sure, it’s frustrating when a customer doesn’t come to your store until after they’ve purchased an inferior product online and it’s failed them. But instead of resenting them, use it as an opportunity to shine. Validate their experience. Explain that everybody gets beat sometimes. And then show them what you’ve got: product knowledge, experience, a friendly attitude, and a no-hassle return process.

Make the effort to properly train your employees so they know how to answer questions, build upon sales, and reward customer patience. Show customers that their presence in your store is appreciated, even if they don’t buy anything. Make it clear that you have what the big online retailers don’t—quality human interaction—and you’re not afraid to use it.

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