How Your Brick and Mortar Store Can Beat Zappos at Its Own Game

brick and mortar store

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 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.)

Encourage Reviews

Let customers know your store has a presence on local search, review and rating sites such as Yelp or 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.

Be Friendly

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.

Encourage Lingering

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.

Give Back

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


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

15 Reactions
  1. Lots of great ideas and points here. I believe one of the advantages brick and mortar stores will always have over online sales is instant gratification – people can have the items they want when they want them. There is no waiting 3-7 business days for their purchase to be delivered. And a lot of brick and mortars are beating online sellers at their own game – letting buyers purchase online and for in-store pickup for NO shipping costs. Sweet!

  2. I think brick and mortar businesses have an edge in the sense that people can actually touch their products. Let’s admit it. The Internet has its limits. Clients can only see the products and they cannot touch, smell or taste it. If you can fuse the engagement of social media with your selling, then you’ll definitely come out on top.

    • Great point Aira – this is especially true for clothing retailers. If you can’t try on the clothes to see how they look you’re much less likely to buy (or return them after you realize they don’t fit!)

  3. I agree with both Aira and Jennifer. But I think most small brick-and-mortar retailers should augment their store with an online presence of their own. That way you can own more of the market.

    And make sure your employees are well-informed and friendly. Give customers a reason to shop in your stores.

  4. Great article – great tips. Love online, but love supporting small and local businesses even more (the smartest ones are also online sellers). Thanks, Rieva.

  5. If the brick and mortar store become “glocal”, it will be doing fine in the long run… Please tell me if you want to explain the word, glocal! 😉

    • Martin, it’s essentially a mash-up of the words global and local. So you can sell stuff locally (via the brick and mortar store) and globally (via your website)

      • Rieva,

        You are right about the word! Congrats you have won… 😉

        I participated yesterday in a Google Hangout arranged by Ivana Taylor on a online webshop that combines the brick and mortar acitivities. The name of the platform is Meylah.

  6. Thank you for this post. I speak to many business owners every day that feel the pressure of knowing what needs to be done socially, yet simply don’t have the bandwidth to do what’s necessary to actively engage. Truth is, there are lots of tasks they don’t have the time to accomplish themselves. Hire someone. There are tons of great options available for this, and the consistent exposure is worth every penny. Not only that, but so long as you’re paying someone to do the work for you, you can also hold them accountable for getting the job done right. If they don’t measure up, don’t get sour on the concept, do what you’d do with any other employee, and replace them.

  7. Great article. I agree that many brick and mortar stores need to get social both online, such as through Facebook, Twitter, and in reality like you said by being friendly, giving back to the community and offering reasons for consumers to linger in your store. Sort of like what Starbucks does by offering a great atmosphere and free Wi-Fi.

  8. thanks Jeff and Saqib. Business owners need to pull double duty these days and run their companies and look ahead at the new technologies

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