How to Market Your Retail Business to a Specific Audience

A small retail business must have a unique niche, a strong company image and a meaningful connection with its consumers to succeed in today’s competitive retail landscape. Target marketing is the process of focusing marketing efforts toward a specific group of customers. Four commonly used target marketing types that companies can take advantage of include age, income-sensitive, gender-specific, and geographic target marketing.

Determine Your Niche

Using just one target marketing type is usually not enough. For instance, often times targeting an all-encompassing female audience as a retail business won’t cut it. To succeed, a retail business must have a niche, something that differentiates it from the competition. For instance, Lululemon, a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company, targets women between the ages of 25 to 35 that are interested in leading a healthy lifestyle in a fashionable way, explains Mary Charleson, president of marketing consultant company Charleson Communications. Through their niche, Lululemon continues to target the behavior of a unique demographic with store displays, a mobile app, brand ambassadors, and a blog that embodies company culture.

A great way to find your retail business’ niche is by finding out who isn’t being targeted in your area yet and pairing this deficiency with the right products, suggests Entrepreneur. In other words, if professional women above the age of 50 that enjoy playing golf have nowhere to shop for clothing, you can step-in and fulfill that need.

Establish a Strong Company Image

Once you’ve decided on a particular niche, it’s time to establish a strong company image. Forever 21 is an affordable fashion-forward clothing company with a fresh and young image, which is fitting since they target women in their teens and early 20s. Their black and white design puts the emphasis on the clothing and creates a striking contrast compared to other retail clothing stores. Forever 21’s image is bold and stylish, which tells their young consumers that the company is not afraid to be different. Additionally, Forever 21 puts geotargeting into practice by placing its stores inside malls, a common hang-out for teens and young adults.

A company’s image should speak volumes. It should tell your audience right away what your retail business is all about. And one way to speak to your audience right away is with a logo that represents what your store is all about. Some business spend thousands of dollars with a branding agency or designer for a logo that truly represents their brand, and some cash-strapped business even create a free professional logo using a logo design tool. Make sure that the finished result is eye-catching, will look great on both billboards and business cards, and gives shoppers an instant feeling of what your store is all about. The colors and layout you use in your logo should be consistent throughout the rest of your company image. Use your logo as inspiration for the company letterhead, product packaging, and website design.

Connect with Your Audience

Whether you have a brick-and-mortar retail business or an e-commerce website, it’s important to connect with your consumer through the communication method he or she typically uses. For retail stores targeting women, women’s relationship-centric behaviors mean that they spend 40 percent more time on social network sites than men, reports a marketing study by Jack Morton Worldwide.

Furthermore, the content you create to establish a business-buyer relationship needs to be carefully crafted to appeal to the group’s interests, suggests Social Media Examiner. It’s not enough anymore to share lifestyle articles or DIY tutorials. Content and social media user engagement must be tailored to your niche. If your retail business specializes in maternity clothing for stay-at-home mothers with a high disposable income, share or create content that focuses on pregnancy, high-end baby products and homemaking advice.

9 Top Blogs Retail Executives Should Read

There’s definitely no shortage of retail blogs out there to help you keep up with the latest retail trends and learn some tips to improve your retail store or your area of retail expertise. We filtered out some of the noise for you and put together a list of some of our favorite retail-specific blogs. The list below packs something for every company or executive – each blog we’ve selected approaches retail topics with its own unique perspective.

Retail Touchpoints     twitter

The Retail Touchpoints blog is an excellent source to keep up on the latest tips and trends to serve retail customers better. In addition to the blog, the Retail Touchpoints website is a great place to find research and reports, as well as insights from top retail executives across all retail topics from marketing to operations. The website also has a Solutions Spotlight section where some of the top retail solutions are highlighted so retail executives can stay on top of the latest technologies and tools.

NRF     twitter

Looking for a broadview take on where retail is now, and where it’s heading? NRF brings regional, national and global stories to its readers with the diligence, breadth and relevance for which the National Retail Federation is best known.

Shopify     twitter

Shopify’s blog has something everyone will love and learn from. This innovative publication features highly relevant and detailed case studies, productivity app suggestions, marketing innovations and top-notch selling suggestions. For some variety in your retail reading, bookmark Shopify at once.

Retail Minded     twitter

Retail Minded is a leading destination for the independent retail store. Established in 2007, this thorough online publication is a heavy hitter. Whether your speciality is inventory, trade shows, marketing or customer service, Retail Minded has topics small retailers will want to add to their reading list.

Retail Focus     twitter

If you want the latest on retail design and display, Retail Focus delivers. This online magazine puts the emphasis on aesthetics – and the result is a powerful, cutting-edge publication that delivers the top news on what major retailers across the world are designing for their stores and projects.

Internet Retailer     twitter

For a comprehensive look at online retailing today, Internet Retailer does not disappoint. This publication delivers the freshest news, key data, feature articles and insightful analysis of current retail strategies.

Vend     twitter

From tips on boosting your profit margins to insider looks at what consumers are actually thinking, Vend is here to help. This corporate blog delivers fresh content on a regular basis that is of real use to small to mid-size retail chains. This one is not to be missed.

Forrester Retail     twitter

Retail research, data and analysis company Forrester’s blog is full of rich data and insights that can help retailers today make smart decisions and drive sales. This blog is a highly-regarded way to get a look at retail today, based on the evidence: real data and real interviews with retail’s top executives.

Retail Prophet     twitter

Doug Stephens is one of the industry’s foremost retail futurists. Voted by Vend as one of retail’s top global influencers, his blog is full of pertinent information retailers need to have access to. As an author, speaker and brand advisor, Doug delivers his predictions and insights in a timely and skilled fashion.

There you have it! Making time to keep up with the latest retail trends and tips can be challenging, but these top-notch blogs should definitely make your short list of must-reads. Which ones did we miss that should have made it in our top 9? Let us know in the comments.

How to Use Google Maps to Drive More Traffic to Your Retail Store

According to Google, 97 percent of customers shop for local businesses online; amazing, right? In the world of apps, Google Maps is a heavy hitter. It’s the most popular smartphone app out there, with over 54 percent of smartphone users who use apps using it to get where they need to go.

If you have a physical retail location you can’t afford to ignore this easy and free way to – literally and figuratively – get your business on the map. When your business is listed, you help your customers find you through different Google channels such as Maps, Search and Google+ and drive more traffic to your stores.

With 50 percent of smartphone users using a map app (most likely Google Maps) to find retail stores and 74 percent of smartphone users using location-based services, this is a service that’s becoming more and more relevant as the rise of smartphones continues. Shoppers are using both Google and Google Maps to find restaurants, businesses and retail stores. As Google doesn’t charge to list your business, this is a service you can’t afford overlook.

How to Get On the Map

To get started, you need to have a Google account (this account will work for all of your Google activities from Gmail to Google+). Next, you need to ensure your store is on the map. Believe it or not, the good samaritans over at Google may already have listed it for you; they may not have. To check, surf on over to Google Maps and search for your business. If you find it, you’ll need to ‘claim’ your business. If you don’t find it, you’ll need to ‘list’ your business.

To list your business on Google Maps, you’ll need to do so through Google Places for Business. First, sign in to your account and then create your business listing based on the instructions provided. If your business is already listed, you’ll need to claim it. You can do that by clicking on the corresponding clickable link that pops up when you pull up your business on Google Maps; from there you can choose the option to claim your business. You can get more detailed instructions on claiming your business. As claiming and listing your business can take a few weeks (Google doesn’t just put anyone on the map), it’s wise to get started right away.

Optimize Maps for Maximum Exposure

Optimizing your business for maximum exposure is an important part of your Google Maps strategy. Though getting on the map is the first, and arguably most important step, your work doesn’t end there. Learn to leverage Google to drive more foot traffic to your store. Here’s a plan to help you get more traffic out of maps:

1. Take Advantage of Google’s Free Features for Business

Google wants to be as complete as possible, so it provides lots of opportunities for you to upload information on your business. Start by making sure your Google Places/Maps listing is as thorough as possible. Add photos of your business. Fill out the hours. Provide a link to your website. Next, stay on top of customer reviews that are left for you. Google provides a forum in which customers can review your business; whether those reviews are negative or positive, it’s key to stay in the conversation and respond when a customer discusses your store on Google. Google provides a wealth of information on how to use their free features for big exposure.

2. Use Keywords to Your Advantage

Are there certain keywords or product words associated with your business? If you know a customer is going to be searching for a certain word associated with your store, such as “handbags”, it’s wise to make sure ‘handbags’ is in your Google Maps/Places description. Think of important keywords a customer might use to describe your business, and then include them in your Google description.

3. Encourage and Respond to Customer Reviews

Be sure to encourage your customers to share their experiences on your Google Maps page. Actual customer reviews go a long way in establishing actual trust and reputation within your community. Not only is it great for prospective customers to read reviews, but Google uses keywords from reviews to find relevant places for users. The Google Maps app makes it very easy for customers to rate and review your store on the go. It’s also critical that you monitor and respond to these reviews to show your customers that you care and are committed to making your retail store the best it can be.

4. Optimize Your Online Store for Mobile

Creating or claiming your listing, optimizing your store’s information, and generating and responding to reviews is an excellent start. But don’t stop there. Remember when you added a link to your website in your Google listing? Mobile commerce, specifically purchases made on smartphones, are on the rise. Often times a merchant’s website is not optimized for mobile. Other times a merchant’s mobile version of its site makes it simple to find store locations and contact information. But guess what? Google Maps already gives your shoppers your location, directions and phone number. So your website link you provide them in Google Maps should direct these shoppers to a great mobile experience for your online store. Prospective customers want a glimpse of what items you sell in your store before they visit in person. Make sure your e-commerce site is optimized for mobile shopping and makes checkout a quick and easy transaction.

If your store doesn’t have a mobile-optimized online store or no e-commerce store at all, a mobile commerce platform can be an efficient way to give your shoppers an instant mobile-optimized storefront for shoppers to browse your store’s real-time inventory and most popular items, see specials you’re running, and buy on the go. Shoppers can also order items and select in-store pickup instead of waiting for shipping if your mobile commerce platform is integrated with your point-of-sale system.

According to Google, 50 percent of consumers who search locally on their smartphones visit a store within a day. Don’t miss out on these customers. Optimize your Google Maps listing to help drive more traffic to your stores.

How Mobile Data Can Change Your Retail Strategy

Google’s Our Mobile Planet report showed mobile shoppers spend 25 percent more on average than traditional shoppers. Retailers need to embrace this new era, and embrace the fact that 80 percent of shoppers carry around an Internet-ready device at all times. Furthermore, 78 percent of shoppers use their smartphone while in a store. A mobile website or app is a great start, but to capitalize on mobile shoppers, you must discover who they are and what they’re doing.

Scan and Run

It’s been called showrooming—a smartphone user scans the barcode of an item to see if they can get the item cheaper on Amazon. A brick and mortar store can’t be surprised by a consumer who wants to save money and time if there’s a long checkout. These shoppers are not a lost cause though. A comScore report found the average amount of time to receive online goods is 7.2 days. And, 78 percent of those polled say they choose the least expensive shipping option available, according to Internet Retailer. In our impulsive world, consumers still prefer to pay less and wait longer. Combat this trend by benefiting from smartphone usage yourself. Offer discounts through email or app notifications. Expect consumers to price check and don’t set premium prices on goods that are widely distributed especially if they retain value over time. If you’re able to offer exclusive products not sold online, make it happen.

Checkout Overhaul

A Yankee Group survey last year found 32 percent of companies with 500 or more employees are already using mobile POS and 29 percent plan to convert in the next 12 months. Retailers need to plan now as the checkout process is transforming. First, focus on customer service with your checkout process. A bad experience may be enough for a customer to switch to online shopping for good. Conduct surveys to find out what your customers desire and apply it to the checkout process. On the technology end, research firm IHL Group found mobile POS sales reached $2 billion in 2013. Integrated with several of the new breed of POS systems, ShoppinPal allows customers to browse a your store’s items, order ahead to have items ready for pick-up, and redeem rewards and self-pay on their phones so you keep their business. Take advantage of mobile POS and the value-driving mobile shopping solutions that work hand in hand with these point-of-sale systems.

Big Data, Big Strategy

Online retailers got a jump on big data by collecting information from ISP addresses. Now, brick and mortars can use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology to obtain valuable consumer information. Retailers can find what areas of a store a customer visits, how long they stay and their reaction to digital offers. This is all done without compromising the users security i.e gathering phone numbers and contacts. This data can be used to form a strategy that gives the customer a personalized and one of the kind experience. If one area of a store gets heavy traffic but low volume of purchases, decipher whether the issue is pricing or display. Analyze purchase history by integrating POS data into Quickbooks. This allows customers to be treated like VIPs when they are offered relevant deals and suggestions. Return customers should be given the most attention, these are the dollars that stores can keep away from their online competitors.

If you offer customers a personalized experience whether it be on though mobile or face-to-face, they are likely to come back for more.

Leveraging the Customer’s Line of Sight: 9 Tips for Retail Stores

In today’s competitive retail world, it can be challenging to keep up with the wants and needs of your customers. Once you have drawn customers into your store, the next crucial step is to keep them engaged and to leverage their line of sight in order to best ensure an appealing environment and positive sale.

The following tips will help you create a customer experience that embodies contentment and effortlessness as the customer navigates your store.

First impression

Always keep in mind what you place in the front of the store sets the stage for the customer as they move deeper. Create intrigue in what you have to offer right off the bat by placing a display in the front of your store that will get the customer to slow down and set the stage for a great experience. A display of seasonal appeal is an extremely effective way of doing this, and creates a point of interest for the customer to build on as they move through the store. If you can, draw shoppers to the right side of the entryway. Studies have shown that most people naturally look left first, then move right as they enter a store. If you can guide them in this direction, you are not forcing them in the “right” direction so much as you are working off of their natural route instinct.

Surrounding Décor

The décor and supplemental arrangements need to act in support of your merchandise. It’s best to use decorations and organizational materials that reflect a clean and open feel, leaving plenty of space for your retail items so as not to distract from the overall intrigue of what you are trying to sell. Be creative and use décor items that supplement your brand and product, but as you aim for a unique feel, make sure you don’t go overboard.

Packaging

If your product is packaged in any way, aim for a bold appeal and unique delivery. Be careful, however, that you don’t create any sense of distraction from the actual product, as it will not deliver its first impression as clearly as it should. Think about how you can implement packaging that communicates exactly what the product is or does while at the same time, standing out in what may be competitive product territory. Assess your use of color, font, shape, etc. in order to adequately communicate your company’s overall brand and image.

Placement and Organization

Where you place your products can greatly affects their potential for sale. Shelves and racks need to flow in a way that makes sense for both the browsing shopper and the shopper who is “on a mission.” Accessibility is also crucial, as items places too high or too low will go unreached, unseen, and unsold.

Lead the customer

When mapping out the structural framework of your store, aim for a continuous flow whenever possible. Don’t stop a display at a blank wall, closet, or employee area, as this can create an awkward transition and loss of attention on your product(s). Engage the customer with creative organization, and create a flow that makes sense, is appealing, and also reflects an upbeat sense of your product and your company.

Relationship

Make sure that one shelf of products doesn’t distract attention from another. Flow is always important, and if you establish cohesiveness between your displays, customers are less likely to become overwhelmed and/or disinterested. Be careful not to place a long line of products that goes on and on—this increases the chance of customer boredom and goods being skipped over. Small break spaces can be filled with unique standout merchandise or light décor to give the customer a chance to take a breath and become drawn in by the next display.

Checkout and Point of Sale Displays

It’s never too late to generate product intrigue. Even as your customer heads to the checkout counter, aim to complete their purchase with strategically placed merchandise that is often necessary but forgotten or even overlooked. Highlight smaller products that will appeal to a wide consumer base within your target demographic, and make sure they are at a most comfortable (and therefore, appealing) price point.

Bigger Picture

Of course, how you think about your company’s overall image will surely impact the customer’s in-store experience. Make sure you have aligned your brand, store layout, and merchandise to fit your target demographic. Take time perfecting your company logo and think about incorporating it into your displays and/or merchandise layout. Copywriting is another very broad area that affects retail stores on many levels. Words, signs, and product descriptions can dramatically enhance the customer experience and assist in encouraging your customers to maximize their in-store journey and delve deeper into your products. Also, change displays regularly, perhaps even using many of the same pieces, but rearranged and re-inspired to create a fresh perspective that will draw the customer into your products and best guide them around your store.

Store Specificity

Depending on your specific niche, there may additional methods of appealing to the consumer that rely on the particulars of your store, employees, and of course, the customer. Have employees give first hand input regarding common complaints or discrepancies they see as customers browse the aisles. Create an engaging and open atmosphere by simply asking frequent and loyal customers how they might better be served or access your products.

5 Tips for Creating an Effective Online Presence for Independent Retail Stores

It seems that some of the greatest challenges in retail involves marketing strategies to help drive sales. Technology seems to outdo itself on a very regular basis, and the choices you make (digitally) can be crucial to your retail business.

Traditional forms of marketing (ie. print, mail, TV, radio, catalogs, brochures, etc.), while certainly not obsolete, can require a much heftier investment and a substantial amount of labor to get them to the masses in a way that appropriately appeals to your business. And measuring the impact of these traditional forms of marketing can sometimes be limited to nothing but a gut feel. Digital marketing methods offer a much greater potential for a return on your investment (that can actually be measured), providing an extremely cost-effective way of using a smaller marketing budget to grow your business.

These tips will highlight how small companies with potentially limited resources can launch a successful digital presence to boost the online footprint and overall exposure.

Create Powerful Web Content

First, make sure you create a great website. Your website is the first place that many people go to supplement their interest in your business. It is extremely easy to invest in this and create an online presence that is informative and appealing to the customer. Aim to maintain a connection with the consumer by providing the latest in company and industry news, helpful blog posts, and delightful images and information on your products.

Make sure that you also include appropriate keywords for SEO purposes. This way, more people searching products and info within your industry will be able to locate your business and expose themselves to your strong content.

Keep In Touch

According to a study by ExactTarget, 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email. Use email marketing to reinforce relationships through special offers or bonus content and keep your product or service in your customers’ minds. Make sure that this content doesn’t solely focus on your product, but more so gives customers a feel for your store’s unique personality and why customers should care. As a small business, you have a unique advantage over larger retailers in that you have the ability to personalize content and really establish that individual connection with customers.

Master Social Media

Human interaction is invaluable to business success, and social media allows for such interaction to take place on a virtual platform, thus allowing for a broad-spectrum reach that face-to-face interactions would not easily permit. One of the biggest mistakes businessses new to social media make is trying to do it all and failing to do one thing well. You don’t need a presence on every social network out there. Can you imagine being active on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Vine, Instagram, YouTube… and still running your business? Instead, do some research to make sure you know which social networks your customers and prospective customers use most, and start with one social network.

Be active, maintain a presence and a conversation with consumers. This ties back into your “powerful web content” and can greatly improve your customer loyalty and engagement.

Mobile Presence

Not only must your content be engaging, but it also must be done in a way that can be easily read and acted upon, particularly when done so on a 3-6 inch screen. Make sure content is appropriate for whatever screen a customer wants to use. For example, your website needs to be impeccably compatible for mobile devices and contact information should be easily found. Essentially, your entire communication and marketing strategy needs to be mobile-friendly.

Make sure that when people nearby search for your store or items you sell, they can actually find you. Visit GetListed.org, enter your business information, and submit your business info to each of the directories available.

Set Goals and Track Results

In order to maintain a place and know how you need to adapt in order to move forward, you must monitor goals and track results. Consider what types of posts and promotions people are responding to. Analyze the referring sites that actually bring people to your website and brick-and-mortar location. As a small business, you have the advantage of adaptability in that if something isn’t working, you have a much quicker ability to change and redirect your marketing efforts. It may take a bit of trial-and-error to figure out exactly what works for your business, but the process can flow much more efficiently than it will in the marketing department of bigger chain stores.

Google Analytics provides a great (and free!) starting point for tracking the movement in your online presence. You can track page views, referral traffic, bounce rates, overall traffic, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. All of this information can be used to validate what you’re doing right (or wrong) and make changes as needed.

What have you found to be most successful for your store when establishing an online presence?

Beacon Technology: What does it mean for retail stores?

Beacon technology will potentially revolutionize the customer retail experience. It brings a new dimension to interaction between you and the customer. So what is Beacon Technology? Well, it works on Bluetooth low energy (BLE) – which is used by a low frequency chip that is found in devices like mobile phones. These chips communicate with multiple Beacon devices to form a network.

iBeacon is a version of BLE software made specifically by Apple that was released with IOS version 7. In Apple’s case, this software pushes notifications to users as they walk around an Apple Store. But this is just the beginning; soon, independent developers and companies will be coming up with software tailored specifically for the Retail niche.

Before we get to why this matters and what’s in it for you, let’s quickly get out the way what some of you are thinking– What’s the difference between this new Beacon technology and that thing you read about awhile back…NFC?

Well, when looked at through the retail lens, NFC works only when your device is very close to the NFC tag to read the information– 10 cm or less. Whereas beacon technology can work within 70 meters of a beacon device. No scanning necessary. In addition, this system can pinpoint where your customer is in the store– microlocation– and relay specific information for them.

Cost factor

Each NFC tag costs approximately 10 cents due to it containing silicon which basically means 10 cents for every product. This represents a significant and recurring cost to small retailers– although it could make sense for small retailers with higher ticket items. On the other hand Beacon technology requires a one time significant investment in devices that broadcast information to smartphones. Estimote sells 3 devices for $100 which can be used in a 10-20 meter area. With time and competition, these devices will cost much less and will become more affordable.

Who are the big players?

Estimote: This is perhaps the best known of the players to use BLE for beacon technology. Their devices, which are in the testing phase, are small. Estimote integrates with many mobile platforms including iOS7.

PayPal: PayPal produces a USB device that is compatible with several POS systems: Vend, Leaf, Erply, Leapset, ShopKeep, Micros, Revel, and NCR. PayPal Beacon detects a shopper with the PayPal app on their smartphone (only if the shopper has enabled it), which then pulls up the customer’s photo on the merchant’s POS system for verification before the sale. If the shopper also enables automatic check-in, the complete experience and payment happens without even taking your phone out of your pocket.

Apple: Apple’s incorporation of this technology will probably be what gives it the biggest boost. As mentioned before, it’s IOS 7 software has the ibeacon technology built in. It is unclear if Apple itself will produce and sell the hardware for ibeacon technology but other manufacturers’ products will be easily compatible with it.

So what does this mean for Retail?

Analytics: The BLE technology will give retailers a greater insight into customer purchases. For example, retailers will be able to tell how much time a customer spends in each part of the store – and how they navigate the store. This is valuable information that can be used to optimize the in-store experience and increase revenues.

Loyalty: In the not so distant future, we will begin seeing this technology used to create powerful 1:1 offers for customers– on the spot (literally). This sort of customized targeting could, for example, use the customer’s purchase history and favorited items to come up with product-specific offers when they approach that item on the shelf. We all know these types of offers would convert very well!

Customer Service: You can expect a revolution in customer service alright. Imagine that as soon as a customer walks in to the store, your sales staff will know their name, what product categories they shop most, the items they browsed last time but didn’t purchase and what their spending habits are. Using this information, retail stores can create a better shopping experience and offer superior customer service.

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?

Retail Mobile Technology Trends in 2014

After a rapid year of change in 2013 in the retail and technology arena, what can we expect in 2014?

2014 will be the year where small businesses will have to level up and fight the goliaths that are the big box and online retailers. Online vs. Offline will see a higher level of competition, as the stakes will be greater. In addition there are changes on the marketing front that small business owners need to be aware of. Read on to find out what we’ve learned and what’s in store for the New Year.

1. Merchants will focus on delivering the best user experience

2014 will see consumers move to retailers who provide a smooth and pleasant experience for their customers. Mobile apps of particular companies continue to add features that create more personalization. For example, Domino’s released an app that allows customers to save their favorite food items and coupons and in addition track pizza delivery. This has saved me more than once when I was too lazy to go to the trouble of figuring out what toppings I wanted or deciding on the thickness of my crust. I simply chose the pizza I had last time. Done.

2. The mobile wallet will demand innovation and value to grow

In 2013, the smartphone user base grew to over 50% of the mobile handset market in line with previous predictions. But mobile wallet systems have failed to take off. Why? The number of players in the field and the rapidly evolving technology is making consumers as well as retailers hesitant to invest time and money into any particular system.

But we’re putting our money on the mobile payment tools that continue to innovate and provide value above and beyond the payment. Take for instance PayPal, who implemented an order ahead feature (working with eat24, an online platform for food delivery from your favorite restaurant) that decreases wait time for customers. It’s all about value creation and making the user experience a streamlined, hassle-free and fun experience. And on a not-so-side note, I actually used this feature recently while out with friends, and must say it is pretty nifty.

3. Mobile commerce will see growth in 2014

As retailers come face to face with quick shipping and competitive pricing from online stores, it will become super important to face these challenges. It will be a decisive year for small retailers.

Ever checked product reviews on your smartphone while deciding to purchase something in store? You’re not alone. In a recent survey, 66 percent of respondents reported using their smart phones in stores to compare prices, search for deals, check with family and friends about their choices, and read product details and reviews.

Some have reported making purchases from cheaper online merchants right there in the store. Yes, it kind of leaves a bitter taste when a customer walks in, checks out the product, price shops and walks out. That’s why it’s time to step it up.

In 2014, retailers will have to battle this by bringing out their own improvements and invest in mobile apps that wow customers, create loyalty and allow leveraging technology to increase sales. One example of leveraging technology is knowing what product your customer checked out but didn’t buy while in the store, and enticing them to complete the purchase with a deal emailed to them or pushed to the app. This is just one of several features that ShoppinPal provides.

4. Data driven marketing will be a key strategy for local businesses

A study that was just released by the Direct Marketing Association found that data driven marketing was the way for local businesses to compete effectively. Their findings were that small businesses and innovation were the biggest winners in the data driven marketing economy. DDMI Executive Director Rachel Nyswander Thomas stated, “Data also gives small businesses a leg up in matching of products to customers. Data-intensive market insights are now more accessible to mid- and smaller-size enterprises than ever before” With this new information companies are quickly getting on board with local marketing campaigns and small business may finally get the edge on their larger competitors in 2014.

Customers are Shopping Smarter; What Retailers Should Know

Once upon a time, the Internet was a scary black hole into which one should not input their credit card info. Thanks to EBay, PayPal and Etsy, the Internet slowly became a safe, even friendly, way to shop. This meant bad news for retailers whose hangars and cash registers could hardly compete with the allure of fancy websites, digital shopping carts and personalized discount codes emailed straight to a customer’s inbox. Thanks to the e-commerce, the modern shopper is informed, prepared and has high expectations for their shopping experiences.

Shoppers Have Weapons 

The weapons the modern shopper has are smartphones; harnessing the power of the web, smart phones inform, persuade, convince and, potentially, lose the deal for a retailer. Never ones to take profit-loss laying down, the big-box stores figured that if shoppers were coming into their stores to browse the net and showroom, they’d better find a way to get in on the action. Their solution? Store-specific apps give consumers better product info than they can find on the web, plus so much more.

Shoppers Want Instant Product Information

Let’s face facts: online shopping has spoiled all of us. Gone are the days of writing to a company to request product info; today, manuals are online and, when we have a question we somehow can’t find an answer via Google, we start an online chat with a company’s customer service rep. For those of us who grew up before the Internet, it’s all a bit mind-blowing. Shoppers today are used to having product info at our fingertips. In an actual store, we can touch and feel a product, sure, but we can’t read reviews, see similar items or watch a how-to video for it.

Shoppers Know Their Value

Modern shoppers are actively courted and pursued by online vendors. If an online store notices we haven’t shopped with them recently, we get emails that read like they were written by a heartbroken ex; subject lines read, “We want you back”. When we do shop at online stores frequently, they take notice and give us little loyalty gifts that show us they care about our relationship… from rewards points to big discounts. With all the wooing we’re used to, it’s a bit disconcerting when we shop at a brick and mortar store as just another nameless face with some money to burn!

Shoppers Don’t Want to Wait

Thanks to the Internet, we take our work home with us (and sometimes out to dinner with us). The modern shopper is always on the go. All of this work means we’ve lost patience for old-timey things like, say, waiting in line. Online shopping gives us the option of ordering things with the ease of a few clicks. No lines necessary! When faced with long lines at a store, it’s all too tempting to just head home and go online.

While ecommerce giants like Amazon may be a formidable adversary to brick and mortar stores, all hope is not lost. Around 2007, the game changed and, like the Beatles before them, smart phones came to America. Smart phones finally gave big-box stores a way to compete with the online world: apps. What, however, can a small retailer do to compete today? What could small stores without fleets of programmers or a massive budget do? The answer is simple: there’s an app for it.  It’s called Shoppinpal.

ShoppinPal is the small and mid-size retailer’s palm-sized solution to fight back against the net and the big-box stores. Our mobile commerce app is made for smaller businesses so that you can give your customers the instant product information they want, personalized shopping offers and instant checkout when they’re on the go. Join the app and mortar store revolution with us.