It’s a fundamental rule that those who do not adapt to change lose market share. Online-only retailers have capitalised on the rapid uptake of ecommerce and are often assumed to be more agile and responsive than their traditional bricks-and-mortar counterparts. However, high-street retailers still have the chance to emerge victorious by making the most of their biggest asset: their physical stores.
In order to make the most of the opportunities offered by continuing digitalisation, bricks-and-mortar outlets and retail groups in their traditional form launched online shops to strengthen their relationship with customers and increase their ecommerce market shares. Such goals are seldom attained, though, if online shops are operated independently from the actual stores.
The key to success is to offer customers real additional value in terms of their shopping comfort and experience. Retailers need to link their online and offline worlds and implement an omnichannel strategy that clearly differentiates them from the competition. This is what creates the real point of difference to online pure play retailers.
The strengths of bricks-and-mortar retailers are not insignificant. In addition to having an actual location, they usually have a well-known brand and established customer base. Both of these are really important because trust is a valuable commodity in the world of online commerce.
Retail chains generally have substantial financial assets, far greater than those of almost all online shops. If bricks-and-mortar retailers are truly prepared to make a major investment in the online sector, they will find themselves in a significantly better starting position than a new pure player trying to break through.
Customers today want to be introduced to products in a new manner and modern-day shopping generally takes place in a multi-faceted fashion, ranging from online comparisons, offline in-store viewing, additional research online and so forth.
For me, the opportunities that mobile presents is a whole other story in itself. The growing ROPO (research online, purchase offline) phenomenon is just one example. Although browsing online has become the most important way to decide what to buy, research shows that people still want to shop in store.
The ROPO effect offers a strategic opportunity both to develop sustainable customer relationships and increase sales. This assumes, however, that certain technical requirements have been met on your online site.
Geo-localisation, for example, allows you to automatically show visitors to your online and/or mobile shops where the nearest store is located and if the product is available, thus eliminating an important customer question and boosting customer engagement.
High quality content will also play an important role in your ROPO strategy. Tips for obtaining advice and instructions not only makes the customer happy, but also improves your Google ranking and makes you easier to find. To help you stand out from the crowd, provide information about specialist advice available in-store, hours of operation or directions.
You should also consider the use of in-store terminals with internet access that allows customers to order sizes that are out of stock at no additional cost for shipment to their homes or in-store pick-up. Click-and-collect services are also very popular as it gives customers the opportunity to inspect items and ask questions.
The three ‘T’s
For traditional retailers, it’s time to make the most of what sets you apart from solely online retailers. Use your physical stores to your best advantage by offering the three ‘T’s of a live experience: Touch, Try on and Try Out. These create trust, give rise to security in making the purchase and create a user experience that many customers will enjoy and value.
You can further build the profile of your business, and at the same time generate profit, through hosting special events, such as fashion shows, skin consultations, autograph sessions or anniversary parties. Your customers will retain a positive memory of such events and happily take part in them again – once again boosting customer engagement.
Recent IMRG figures showed that growth in multichannel sales has now pushed ahead of growth in online-only sales – at 15% year-on-year in 2014 versus 13%, respectively. This comes as no surprise. After all, a high-street presence acts as a showcase for online shoppers, the entry point for customers on which they will build trust, which in turn, is more likely to lead those customers online to make a purchase.
Initially, you should focus on following ecommerce best practice to the fullest extent possible and once you have done that, then you can recreate your offline brand experience online, to help link your bricks-and-mortar and online retail outlets.
The pure online players might be growing in number, but bear in mind that your most valuable asset is still the physical store, and only by truly embracing its potential will you really drive home the benefits. And be quick, before the online competition catches on!
By Stuart Patterson, Business Development Manager at FACT-Finder.