5 Things to Consider when Blending E-Com with Brick & Mortar
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Co-Written by Audrey Taylor & Jordan Hart
During the lockdowns and restrictions this past year, many retailers were forced to focus more heavily on their online presence while brick and mortar stores were unable to open freely. Stores that successfully avoided the need to launch e-commerce sites pre-Covid, such as large off-price stores, re-evaluated their online presence (read more about off-price turning to e-commerce HERE).
While the pandemic may be dying down, online shopping remains strong. Now is the time for retailers to consider how they will blend e-commerce, social selling, and brick and mortar strategies to create a frictionless experience for their shoppers.
If this task sounds a little daunting... Don’t worry! To ease your mind, we’ve done our research and reflected on 5 topics small businesses should consider when blending digital and in-person retail.
1. CUSTOMER JOURNEY
For many, the customer journey starts online but in 2021 and beyond, regardless of if it begins in-store or online, the customer should have a seamless shopping experience every step of the way.
The rise in online shopping has led to a change in behavior for in-store customers as well. Nowadays, if a customer visits your store, it is not just to make a purchase: they are there for an experience – something or someone to inspire them. If they knew exactly what they wanted and where to get it, then they would simply buy online.
A perfect example of this behavior is with busy parents or individuals who live in big cities; Square found those groups are the most avid online shoppers. Many of these shoppers are looking for efficiency – they aren’t looking to drag their kids out of the house to shop. According to David Rusenko, Head of eCommerce at Square, as foot traffic continues to change post Covid, it is key to be able to serve your existing customer base, as well as expand your audience online.
At any point within their journey, customers may crossover from the digital space to brick-and-mortar or vice versa. In order to deliver a seamless experience, you should consider each layer of the customer journey (Awareness, Consideration, Acquisition, Service, Loyalty) and evaluate if the digital and in-person systems of your business (CRM, Inventory Management, POS, etc.) can seamlessly communicate with each other.
In the end, if the customer journey is frictionless and meets the needs of shoppers on both fronts, it ultimately won’t matter whether the purchase takes place online or in-store.
2. CONSISTENCY IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
Regardless of if your costumer shops digitally or at the store, you need to be able to deliver consistent service. While in-store you may have a personalized experience for your shoppers with expert associates ready to help, what are you offering online? How are you engaging customers while they shop behind the screen? The first step is to ensure that online customers can quickly get in touch with you. This messaging should be clear and obvious on all pages of the site. Furthermore, when training and scheduling your team, you should always account for online customer service needs. As a small business, you can’t be expected to offer 24/7 customer service, so your messaging should be clear on when the user can expect assistance as well.
There are many instant chat or SMS services that can integrate with the commonly used e-com platforms like Shopify. SoftwareSupp.com recently published a guide to help you pick the best option - read the article HERE. Whether you add a fancy chat system to your website or simply direct customers to pick up the phone and call for shopping advice, it doesn’t matter. As long as you make it easy to get in touch with well-trained and readily available assistants, then your online customers won’t miss out on personalized shopping experiences.
Another way to deliver a higher quality of service online is by utilizing video and interactive media to showcase products. One company that has done this well is EVEREVE. While 65 percent of their sales are still in-store, the company rightfully boasts a top-notch online shopping experience. Their website features videos showing how to style new pieces, outfit ideas for different occasions, and fashion advice for different body types. The staff featured in the video are friendly, conversational, and make the shopping experience feel personal, even through the screen. Part of their blended shopping experience includes a subscription box called Trendsend, which mimics the styling experience you could get in store from the comfort of your home.
Beyond video and subscription box services, loyalty programs and curated gift boxes are also great ways to engage customers both online and in-person.
3. USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO BRIDGE THE GAP
For the foreseeable future, shopping via social media channels will be a key part of business, and a growing revenue stream. Square explained, ‘as retailers expand to online channels, they have the opportunity to connect the online and offline experiences, resulting in increased sales, repeat customers, and the ability to provide customers with the experience they want, where they want it.’
For Millennials and Gen Z, 34 percent of those shoppers want to be able to shop via live video– are you giving them that option? And although 92 percent of shoppers missed being able to shop in stores during lockdowns, ‘shoppers do 43 percent of their monthly retail purchases online’; your business needs to be aware of and prepared to cater to both of those statistics.
Square also found that ’40 percent of retailers’ online revenue comes from social media, among those who sell on social platforms.’ Offering live shopping on social media can help at-home customers feel like they are actually in-store with you. Additionally, it can be a big boost in revenue for your business, and something your younger shopping demographic might be expecting to see.
Social selling can be another element that sets your store apart against online retail giants. Square found that ‘social selling gives local retailers a leg up on big-box competition, allowing them to reach a hyper-local group of customers while building community. A social account from a local mom-and-pop retailer that posts about (and sells) what their community cares about builds more trust with these customers than a large retailer.’
4. RAPID TECH ADVANCEMENTS
Exemplified by shopping through socials, the buying experience is now subject to regular technology advancements. Many of these advancements can help your business run smoother and help your customers have a better shopping experience. For example, Google announced a new update that gives Shopify businesses priority on their search algorithm, but as a seller you need to opt in to benefit from the update (read more about that and how to opt in HERE).
According to Square, many small retailers are prioritizing and ‘investing heavily in inventory management technology as they expand beyond physical stores. Seventy-four percent of retailers plan to use technology to show a real-time look at their inventory so they can streamline processes.’ For buyers, apps like FAVES offer similar solutions to help you track purchase orders and catalog photos of products.
The bottom line is – stay in tuned and regularly familiarize yourself with new updates and advancements for any apps or tech services you’re using.
5. DON’T COMPETE WITH AMAZON
Most retailers dread Amazon and view them as one of their biggest threats, but it doesn’t need to be that way. In reality, Amazon isn’t a retailer at all – they’re a tech company. Quite frankly your store isn’t Amazon, so don’t try to be. Independent retailers have many strengths that set them apart from the tech giants.
One of those strengths is offering services Amazon can’t, such as rapid local delivery. ‘With same-day delivery, retailers can offer something that Amazon struggles with, which is one-hour delivery. It’s a really compelling way to compete with larger eCommerce players,’ according to Rusenko.
Some big companies are rooting for your small business to succeed, including Google. The search engine tries to prioritize small businesses (including through the Shopify update above) and takes off some of the pressure to compete with retail giants. There are also resources such as SIDEWALK that work to connect small, local businesses with their local community in a digital space. Remember: while Amazon is a marketplace, your business is a real store, with real people, and real product expertise.
OFFPRICE is rooting for you and your business, no matter how small, how digital, or how brick and mortar. We are here to help you succeed year-round with the support of our team remotely and biannually with our in-person events.
Find out how OFFPRICE can help your business this summer at our Las Vegas show, August 7-10, 2021. Sign up for registration updates HERE