How can a brick and mortar store successfully compete against online retailers? As the line between online shopping and in-store retail continues to blur, this question seems ever more pressing. But a recent news item offers some solace – and suggestions – for small retailers.
CNET recently reported that online accessories and apparel retailer Zappos has been taking “field trips” to local malls to figure out how they can lure shoppers from the real world into the virtual world. While online retail sales are growing every year, the latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce shows eCommerce still accounts for less than 6 percent (PDF) of overall retail sales.
With 94 percent of retail sales still taking place in the physical world, clearly brick and mortar stores have something that eCommerce sites don’t. What, exactly? Zappos believes the answer lies in a social experience at a brick and mortar store, and is seeking ways to make online shopping more social, too.
Zappos is a pretty smart company (at least, they’ve gotten enough of my online spending dollars to convince me they know what they’re doing), so if they think social matters, I think retailers should pay attention.
With that in mind, how can you make your brick and mortar store shopping experience more social?
How Brick and Mortar Store Experiences Can Be Social
Get Social Online
It may sound obvious, but if online retailers can use social media to drive customers to their websites, you can use it to drive customers into your physical store.
Integrate your social media presence with your physical store. Put decals in your store window with the logos of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or wherever else you are on social media. Use them in your print and online marketing materials. Include clickable links on your website and in your marketing emails that customers can use to quickly connect with your store on social media.
Get Social In-Store
Incorporate the real world into your social media presence. Hold in-store events or promotions, take videos or pictures and post them on social media. Encourage customers to take pictures when they make a purchase or try something on and share the images with their friends on social media (mentioning your store, of course.)
Let customers know your store has a presence on local search, review and rating sites such as Yelp or Local.com. Encourage them to review your store if they’re happy with their purchase.
By doing so, you’re taking the in-store experience online to drive more traffic into your shop.
It sounds obvious, but a friendly, helpful attitude is the key attribute you should look for and nurture in store employees. Seek salespeople who truly enjoy interacting with customers and have a good sense for when people want (and don’t want).
Customers will come back if your store feels warm and welcoming – and that starts with you and your people.
Remember when department stores used to have comfy chairs for shoppers’ spouses or kids to plop down and rest while shoppers “shopped till they dropped?” Few do anymore.
Differentiate your store with little touches that encourage customers to stick around. This could include a bowl of water outside the store for dogs tied up out front, a clean restroom, water, tea or coffee to energize customers to keep shopping or a small play or reading area to keep young children occupied.
Think about what might stop your customers from hanging out and eliminate those hurdles.
Get social with other business owners, too. Organize a sidewalk sale in your shopping center or on your street. Find a complementary, but non-competing business in your area and try some ongoing cross-marketing tactics.
For instance, if you own a pet accessories boutique, you could work out a deal with a local dog groomer or vet where you post flyers or set out brochures or business cards for each other’s businesses. You can also hold an event together, such as a bringing in a local dog trainer to hold a workshop on obedience and promoting all of your services.
Getting involved in community events such as charitable organizations, sponsoring local sports teams or fun runs or participating in beach or litter cleanups are one of the best ways to be not only social, but also socially responsible. Encourage your customers to get involved, too, and you’ll build bonds that will help increase loyalty and sales.
Start thinking social and you’ll come up with no end to creative ways to connect your customers with each other, your business and your community.
Social Shopping Photo via Shutterstock