Brick & Mortar Stores: Get an Edge Over Online Retailers

The world of online retail first caught the brick and mortar store’s eye back in the 90’s. Suddenly, customers could order the perfect gift for their mom’s birthday, have it wrapped and delivered without leaving the comfort of their own home. Seductive product descriptions and artfully photographed products charmed customers who fell in love with this new, and decidedly modern, way of doing business. We felt special. We felt cared for… Fast-forward twenty years and the love affair with e-commerce continues and shows no signs of slowing down. According to the 2013 3rd Quarter US Census Report on E-Commerce, online sales are up 17.5% over the same period in 2012. Our email inboxes are flooded with special offers from online stores crafted just for us; our phones keep us connected to the latest and greatest deals 24-7.

With all that online retail has to offer in 2014, why do customers still venture out to shop at brick and mortar stores? A few things… When things go right with e-commerce, it’s a dream. But when they go wrong, it can be a big headache. The gift you ordered Mom never arrived and getting through to an actual human being seems harder than climbing Mt. Everest. If you’re unhappy with an item, returning it requires phone calls and interrogations by customer service agents. Long wait times at the local post office don’t exactly sweeten the deal. Consumers are ready for a change and now, more than ever before, brick and mortar shops can get an edge over their digital competition.

Customer Service Counts

The process of checking off boxes and filling in forms to buy that gift online simply doesn’t draw customers in or encourage that they stop and look around your store for more treasures to buy. Look at Apple, for example. Steve Jobs pushed for brick and mortar stores during a time when most electronic retailers were heading for the digital hills. Jobs believed that service and connecting with customers would drive Apple’s sales. He was right. Even during tight economic times, sales at Apple stores are consistently high. Customers roll up to the genius bar to get the real-time, real-world customer service that only brick and mortar stores can provide. Customers are starting to get it; customer service counts.

Customers Want Rewards

These days, customers are used to getting rewarded for spending money. Like Super Mario, we want to rack up rewards throughout our shopping quest. Online retailers have a lot of tricks up their sleeves here; they have a wealth of data on us through purchase and browse history, they give us easy-to-use coupon codes, simple loyalty programs. Brick and mortar stores are starting to implement more innovative ways to reward their customers. Best Buy, for example, recently revamped their loyalty program that hooks its customers up with loyalty points just for checking in to the store using their phone in addition to points for purchases. For brick and mortar stores, rewarding shoppers can be easy, whether it’s utilizing loyalty functionality built into your point-of-sale system, offering your shoppers a mobile app that handles rewards, or both.

Customers Avoid Hassles

With all the technology today, customers are busier than ever and have less time for hassles… Waiting for a purchase to arrive. Trying on clothes that don’t fit. Back to the post office. The paperwork. Repackaging boxes. Those things alone are enough to make a digital shopper turn local. Brick and mortar stores like Nordstrom really stand out for their customer service initiatives. If you own a brick and mortar shop, be sure to offer a return policy that takes the hoops out of buying and returning. A clear and friendly policy will do your business wonders.

Customers Like Instant Gratification

Amazon Prime is as close to instant gratification as most online customers, who are used to instant emails, instant photos and instant learning, can hope for. Brick and mortar shops, however, are the real deal. No waiting, no back orders, no delays. Brick and mortar shops have an easy-to-grasp philosophy: you see it, you like it, you buy it, you take it home the same day. We live in a fast food culture where we want things when we want them, not tomorrow. Big box stores such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Home Depot and others have taken the bull by the horns here: they’ve launched site-to-store initiatives that enable customers to pay online and pick up their purchases later that day. And this capability is not just for the retail giants; many small and mid-size retailers are launching mobile order-ahead capabilities allowing shoppers to pick up their items in-store that same day. By offering added convenience that blends modern technology with the convenience of traditional shopping, brick and mortar shops can capitalize on the digital customer’s need for instant gratification – to great success.

Let’s sum it up. Brick and mortar shops are poised to give online retailers a run for their money in 2014 by highlighting the in-store shopping advantages and merging old-fashioned customer service with modern technology. When the customer conveniently picks up their purchase on the way home from work, a friendly smile and a physical shopping bag puts brick and mortar stores back at the head of the retail pack. Later on, the brick and mortar store can ensure a repeat visit from a loyal customer by sending the shopper a digital thank you and a reward to stop back in. Old-fashioned customer service blended with modern technology sounds like a delicious recipe for retail success, doesn’t it?

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