e-Commerce: Back to Brick
Over the past few years, many people, including retail experts, have predicted the doomsday of brick-and-mortar stores. With the strong rise of e-commerce and the mass closing of many physical stores by giant retailers, there are many pieces of evidence that back up the prediction.
However, some recent reports point out that many retailers are shuttering their stores but even more retailers are opening their new stores, especially the online retailers looking for a way to get closer to their customers, complete their omnichannel system and increase sales. It’s like a new movement among e-tailers to go back to brick-and-mortar stores.
But why brick-and-mortar stores? We can’t deny that the majority of retail sales still come from this sales channel (in US it counts for nearly 70% and in some other countries, this number may go up to 80% - 90%). And for e-tailers, one of the top reasons that customers don’t buy products online is that they are not sure if the products are worth the money and/ or suitable for them, especially when the products cost a substantial amount of money or often bought as gifts. Customers still prefer to touch, feel and experience products before purchase. Brick-and-mortar stores are the answer to their needs.
These physical stores usually cost a lot because retail spaces are quite expensive, not mentioning the other fees in running and maintaining them. Thus, these online retailers move towards physical presence with care - they don’t open a physical store for the sake of just having one. Physical presence is now an extended part of online presence - a new opportunity for e-tailers to show off their brand concepts, which have been proved successful. They learn from the failure of many other retailers and make sure that their new channel stays relevant to their customers and connected to the rest of the system to ensure there is no boundary between digital and physical stores.
In this new generation of physical stores, customers can try or experience the products they see online. They also have more options to shop: order online and pick up at stores if they don’t want to wait for home delivery, or in case their favorite item is not available in their preferred color at the store, they can order online directly right there and receive it when they come home. Refund online items now can be done at stores too and customers can avoid the complicated process and time delay in online return.
“Our customers love that their reward points can be earned and redeemed instore and online too,” Matt Timmins, IT Manager at The Sewing Studio said. The customer database is synchronized fully between brick-and-mortar and online stores so they don’t have to worry about losing their brand values moving among channels.
Brands can make use of their in-store customer data too. By recording their behaviors when shopping at stores, these brands can enrich the knowledge about target customers and tailor the messages to them. Customers will receive personalized recommendations, which will raise the possibility of purchasing and minimize the risk of annoying customers with irrelevant advertisements. For instance, if one of the customers purchase a prom dress from you for the next week party, you can send her recommendations for accessories such as necklaces, bracelets, clutches, and shoes that will go perfectly with her purchased dress - chances that she’s going to buy more from you are higher. Or if some customers love specific shoes but not available in their sizes at the moment, you want to make sure that they are the first to know when the sizes come in.
Brick-and-mortar stores even go beyond points of service for selling and returning. They can be the touch point that enhances the brand experience for customers. Besides the showroom, The Sewing Studio also provides patchwork and quilt-based workshops, overlocker classes plus dressmaking courses and some other crafts. They even have a self-service cafe right next to the classroom, which is ideal for workshop attendees to have lunch or shoppers to take a break (and their husbands and partners will be more patient if they have some good cups of tea while waiting too).
Physical presence can benefit retailers much as long as they can afford and do it right. It gives customers the feeling that they can trust you since your business is going to be around for a long time. If you can’t afford a permanent store right now or want to test the idea before opening an official one, you can opt for pop-up stores and trade shows. Look for the events that you can join and meet your target customers or use a retail space marketplace like Appear Here to find a temporary location for your brand. In such case, try to find an integrated mobile Point of Sale system that can connect with your web store so you can sell the same products at your short-term stores and get all the data synchronized with least effort in setup.
In the end, we can say that maybe it’s not retail that is dead. It’s the old-fashioned physical stores that can’t stay relevant and be part of the whole brand experience for its customers. Smart e-tailers see the opportunity right there and grab it, turning their brick-and-mortar stores into a complement part of their complete, truly omnichannel systems, and a touch point to leave an impressive brand mark in their customers’ minds.