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Make Your Brick-and-Mortar Store More Like Your E-Commerce Site

  |  January 11, 2011   |  Comments

Online or offline, to your customers you are one brand, one company.

Big changes are in store (pun intended). The biggest trends in business today – mobile, social, relevance – are poised to change the in-store shopping experience dramatically.

In the past, people researched products online, where they had access to the most information, including opinions from other customers like them. They then went to the store to try out the product before buying in-store, where buying was easiest: no shipping fees, instant gratification, etc. But today, buying online is as convenient as (or even more convenient than) buying in-store. Many people now use retail locations as demo sites, testing products offline before buying later online. The problem? Customers leaving stores to buy online don't necessarily buy from the same retailer.

There are many benefits to shopping online that are unavailable or inconvenient to access in stores. Retailers should empower customers to do everything they can on your website inside your brick-and-mortar store to keep them out of the hands of competitors.

Here are a few capabilities customers have online that you should make available in-store.

  • Access to additional information. Online, shoppers can view additional product information, customer reviews, and Q&A, and see photos of the product in use. Provide this information for in-store shoppers via a mobile experience or in-store kiosks. And keep the information relevant by making it easy for them to find other users like themselves. For example, let them find commentary from consumers who are voted most authoritative, or are beginners.
  • Product availability tools. It's easy for online shoppers to check product availability, backorder items, or reserve items at store locations. Smartphones or kiosks can provide these tools to shoppers in-store.
  • Top-rated categories and callouts. Advertising top-rated products and featuring these products by category online is shown to increase sales. Apply this same best practice offline. Consider top-rated aisles in stores, showcasing your "Top-rated TVs" for example. Advertise top-rated products with shelf tags to capture shopper attention.
  • Relevant social data. Show streams of relevant tweets, Facebook status updates, and customer reviews, or make them easy for shoppers to find online while they are in the store. The ultimate? Automatically show them information that's relevant to their task, and help them find the information that's deemed most credible by other shoppers or peers.
  • Personalized shopping experience. Shopping online is personalized to the shopper. E-commerce sites can display relevant recommended items or exclusive deals based on the shopper's page views and cart. In stores, many retailers are experimenting with text messages or push notifications as a way to replicate this function. Seventy-three percent of smartphone users indicated they would find it useful to receive instant coupons as they pass items in stores.

Note that many of these tools will require in-store Internet access, via a mobile experience or kiosks, for example. Make it as simple as possible for customers to find the information they need using these tools. Include a barcode or QR code scanner in your mobile experience or kiosk, so customers can quickly look up the specific product they seek.

"It's time to stop differentiating between the online and the offline world," Philipp Schindler, vice president for northern and central Europe at Google, told the World Retail Congress. "Your customers don't see it that way – everything is integrated." Customers aren't distinguishing between each of your hundreds of retail locations, or between your stores and your e-commerce site.

To them, you are one brand, one company. View your business that way, too, and provide the same capabilities in-store as online.

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Sam Decker

Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.

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