It seems that despite the growth of mobile shopping technology, retail customers still like to “get physical” when it comes to shopping — and they aren’t planning to stop any time soon.
In a new study by TimeTrade Systems, The State of Retail 2015 (PDF), 87 percent of consumers plan to shop in physical retail stores at least as often this year as they did in 2014.
For Millennials, the percentage is even higher. Ninety-two percent of them plan to shop in-store this year. That’s as often as they did last year, or more often.
Even when a product they want is available online as well as in a nearby store, nearly two-thirds of respondents in The State of Retail 2015 survey would prefer to buy it in the store. (In fact, more than 70 percent of consumers say they’d rather shop at a physical Amazon store than at Amazon.com.)
Why do consumers still care about brick-and-mortar stores?
It’s not just the ability to get the product immediately. As consumers in all age ranges do more and more of their pre-purchase research online, the report concludes that “more than ever, customers are looking to the in-store experience to help them validate their final purchasing decisions.”
Even better news: Once customers go to a physical store, a whopping 82 percent of them end up spending more than they planned. In other words, making the trip to a store isn’t just for discovery anymore. It’s an indicator of serious intent.
That doesn’t mean you can sit back, do nothing, and still expect to make the sale. What factors convince customers to buy once they’re in your store?
The number-one reason customers go to physical stores is to be able to touch and feel the merchandise. Eighty-five percent of respondents overall and 92 percent of Gen X respondents in the survey cited this ability.
Several studies  (PDF) have shown that customers are more likely to buy products after they have touched or picked them up. How can you make it easier for customers to get a tactile experience? Consider:
- Displaying products in piles (a tactic many clothing stores use) to inspire touching.
- If products are wrapped or sealed, unwrap one of each item so customers can touch it or open up a “tester” item.
- Let the store get a little bit messy. A slightly “lived-in” atmosphere encourages customers to touch and play with the merchandise. If employees are constantly straightening things up, customers might feel like they can’t touch things without annoying the staff. (Just make sure the store doesn’t look like a tornado passed through.)
- You can even encourage salespeople to touch the customers if appropriate. For instance, if you sell skincare or cosmetics products, you could offer mini-makeovers, or salespeople could rub lotion into customers’ hands. At clothing stores, employees could help a customer put on a jacket. Some studies  (PDF) suggest this type of touching can make customers more receptive to buy.
Apparently, the personalization offered by technology (websites that offer suggestions for what to buy, emails offering deals based on your last purchase) can’t quite compete with the personalized service offered by, well, a real person in your store.
Especially when that person can access customer data such as prior purchases or information in the store’s loyalty program to offer the customer exactly what he or she wants.
With an overwhelming number of options available online, consumers are turning to physical stores where salespeople can offer recommendations and help them make decisions. Nearly 90 percent of consumers in The State of Retail 2015 survey say they’re more likely to buy when assisted by a knowledgeable associate.
What exactly do shoppers expect your store salespeople to know?
- Which product is the best value: 65 percent
- Which product is the best quality: 64 percent
- Which product is the most reliable: 56 percent
- Which is the best product for my specific needs and budget: 47 percent
Millennials have even higher expectations: 74 percent expect salespeople to know the best value, 69 percent think they should know the highest quality products and 62 percent want them to know which products are most reliable.
Assistance When They Need It
Our expectations for instant gratification have trickled into the brick-and-mortar retail arena. Not only do your salespeople need to be educated about your products, they also need to be available and ready to help at all times.
Be sure you schedule adequate staff so customers can get assistance quickly.
Spread employees throughout the store in different departments or quadrants so there is always someone available to offer help.
Keep employees near areas where customers are likely to need assistance, like the point-of-sale or the dressing rooms, so customers who are ready to make a decision aren’t slowed down.
Also train employees to be vigilant but friendly when approaching customers. Reading body language is a good skill for employees to have. One study  (PDF) found that mirroring customers’ body language and mood helped lead to increased sales.
So, for example, if a customer entering the store looks as if she doesn’t want to engage with a salesperson, your salesperson can still busy herself near the customer and offer a friendly smile, but not a “Can I help you?” that might annoy the customer away.
Retail Shopper  Photo via Shutterstock