How Can Brick and Mortar Stores Compete with Online Retailers?

How Can Brick and Mortar Stores Compete with Online Retailers?

Can a small, brick-and-mortar store ever hope to compete with online retailers—specifically, with Amazon? Apparently yes: Nearly 86% of retail sales still happen in physical stores, Internet Retailer reports.

How Can Brick and Mortar Stores Compete with Online Retailers?

How can your store be one of those winners? Know what drives customers to brick-and-mortar locations as opposed to online. Here are five “draws” for physical stores and how you can act on them.

The Draw: Flexibility

Today’s shoppers want to do everything their way — including choosing their payment options.

The Takeaway: Easy Payment Options

A survey by SplitIt reports offering payment flexibility is an effective way to attract customers: 22% of consumers in the survey would choose where to shop this back-to-school season based on who offers flexible payment options. (While the survey focused on back to school spending, it’s likely these preferences carry over to other times of the year.) Another 35% of consumers would spend more money if given the option to use flexible payment solutions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Generation Z shoppers are especially interested in a flexible payment options, the SplitIt survey found—23% of them said having flexible payment options would encourage them to buy more this back-to-school season. Another 26% said flexible payment offerings would help them avoid overspending. Overall, 35% prefer to use cash only for back-to-school purchases, beating out debit cards at 20% and credit cards at 13%.

There are so many payment options today that it can make your head spin. Upgrade your Point of Sale system to allow for the types of payments that will appeal to customers both now and in the future. Bonus: many of today’s payment systems can work both in-store and online—which is helpful if you plan to expand into e-commerce at some point.

The Draw: Convenience

Sometimes, even next-day shipping isn’t good enough. When shoppers want something fast, brick-and-mortar delivers. In addition, many shoppers are tiring of ordering things online and returning 90% of it.

The Takeaway: Make Shopping Convenient

Of course, flexible payment options are one great way to provide convenience. However, another is by curating merchandise so shoppers can make faster choices. You can’t hope to compete with, say, Target by offering dozens of products in every category, so focus on streamlining the shopping experience by offering only the best. One-third of shoppers in the SplitIt survey say they like to buy as many things as possible in one place.

The Draw: Supporting the Community

Shoppers aren’t all about saving money — they also care about supporting local retailers. Nearly 90% of consumers believe that independent businesses make a difference in their communities.

The Takeaway: Create a Sense of Community by Taking Part in your Community

Think of ways your store can participate in supporting your local community. For example, choose a local charity or community organization to make your own. Get your customers involved, too. For example, you could have a day when a percentage of your profits goes to the organization or encourage customers to bring in donations that are relevant to your business and the cause. If you own a clothing boutique, ask customers to bring in gently used clothing to donate to a battered women’s shelter in return for a discount.

The Draw: Human Interaction

Algorithms and chatbots can do a lot to suggest purchases or provide assistance, but many shoppers still prefer the human touch.

The Takeaway: Provide Personal Treatment

Retail loyalty or marketing software can help you gather data on your customers’ shopping habits. You can then use this information to suggest additional purchases, alert customers to new merchandise they might like or upsell and cross-sell. Make sure your store employees can easily access this information. More important than the technology, however, train your employees to provide top-notch service (no looking at their phones when customers are in the store). You can even encourage employees to send shoppers personalized emails or interact with them by text to develop one-on-one relationships. (Legendary retail Nordstrom used to have salespeople send physical thank you notes.)

So, how can brick and mortar stores compete with online retailers? There’s room for both online and brick-and-mortar retailers in this world. The secret is to make your store one where shoppers can find what they want from the IRL experience.


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.