Brick-and-Mortar Retail Survival Kit: Staying Competitive in an Omnichannel World

The ubiquity of the Internet and smartphones has made e-commerce and m-commerce grow by leaps and bounds. But fear not, brick-and-mortar retailers: in-store shopping isn't going anywhere. In fact, brick-and-mortar retail still drives more than 90 percent of commerce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Can you imagine your city without shops to peruse, clothes and shoes to try on, and books to page through? Neither can consumers. But with the convenience, speed and ease that comes with online shopping, consumers now expect a higher level of service and a more enticing experience when they do shop in-store.

By leveraging new retail technologies and creative merchandising strategies, brick-and-mortar stores can offer something only available in person – a memorable shopping experience, great customer service and a personal touch.

Here are a few tips retailers can use to take advantage of technology in their stores to create a shopping experience worthy of leaving the living room. 

Make it personal 
In our personal lives, smartphones and tablets are sometimes criticized for alienating us from one another. But with your business, you can use technology to bolster that irreplaceable human element in your customer service and promotional campaigns. For example, by collecting and analyzing purchase data at the point of sale, you can create a more personalized experience for your customers when they return.  

Take Clusier Habilleur, a specialty men's wear store offering quality custom-made suits. It serves a client base of busy businessmen who take their clothes seriously but don't want to spend a lot of time browsing. To help create a bespoke but pain-free shopping experience for its customers, Clusier developed a customer profile system that stores data about past purchases. Having quick access to a client's size, desired fit and favorite brands, staff can quickly walk him through potential options or even pre-select merchandise prior to his arrival. Making use of the system also enables staff to build rapport with clients and upsell.

Make it meaningful and immersive
With a brick-and-mortar store, you have a significant advantage in terms of creating an emotional connection between customers and your products. By designing displays that show products in an interesting context, tell a story or relate to shoppers in a personal way, retailers can ignite a feeling in customers that will make it hard to leave the store without something in-hand or drive the desire to return soon.  

For instance, when Harman Kardon opened its first U.S. flagship store in New York City, it was designed to be more than just another place to purchase audio equipment. Harman used the space to give customers a 36-degree view of its brand and offer an interactive and immersive experience with its products. Right in the store, customers can test the full range of Harman's headphones on their own music players, blast speakers in a soundproof room or chill out in a full home theater. The store hosts musical artist performances and seminars to educate consumers about creating the ideal audio setup in any space.

The experience you create doesn't have to be this extravagant – just meaningful and relevant. Giving customers the chance to touch and feel your products and using your space as an expression of your brand will give customers that connection they crave, which is hard to find (or recreate) online.

Get smart
E-commerce has conditioned consumers to expect sales associates to offer them an added value – the highest level of knowledge and expertise on your products – when they walk into the store. With anywhere, anytime Internet access, consumers have vast product information available on-demand and have evolved into the biggest expert on your products.

Don't let your customers know more about your products than your salespeople. Arm employees with tools that give them real-time product information so they can answer any questions on-demand, make suggestions and offer advice. Some systems also provide real-time inventory information, eliminating the need to “check in the back” to see if a product is available. 

Stay connected
You've made the sale. Now what? Building a relationship is essential for spurring a repeat visit. Collect data from your customers' purchases and use it to fuel targeted marketing campaigns that entice them to visit your shop again.

Did your customer buy a men's shirt, pants and shoes? Offer him a discount on a tie or other accessory to complete the outfit. Showing customers you know what they are interested in and sending a personalized message every once in a while is much more meaningful and effective than spamming them with advertisements and untargeted coupons. It may take a little more effort and some initial investment, but the return comes in loyal customers, referrals and bigger sales.

Dax Dasilva is CEO and founder of LightSpeed.
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