Use E-Mail to Boost Offline Retail Sales

If you have one or more retail stores and you don’t use email to increase store traffic, you may be missing a huge opportunity. According to the USC Annenberg’s “Surveying the Digital Future: Year Four,” 75 percent of Internet purchasers say they shop online, then buy in retail stores.

Think about that.

Three of every four consumers go online, search for products or services, then visit a retail store to actually buy it. Instead of ordering quickly and easily online, they spend time and money to travel to a store and endure checkout lines. At first glance, this seems puzzling in an era when people are buying online in record numbers.

If you think about it, there are many reasons why consumers would research online, then purchase offline:

  • They need the item today, not tomorrow.
  • They want to feel the product before buying it.
  • They want the item gift-wrapped, which not all online merchants do.
  • They’re buying other items in the same store or at the same mall, making it convenient to pick up what they found online.
  • They’re not sure of the size and want to try it on.
  • It’s impractical to buy the product online.

There are plenty of other reasons. What you don’t want is for the user to research a product on your site, then buy it at a competitor’s offline store. Make sure someone researching a product online comes to your place of business, not theirs. How can you encourage online-to-store traffic?

Develop an In-Store E-Mail Program

Between your online and bricks-and-mortar databases, you likely already have basic consumer information, possibly even email addresses. You may also know your customers’ Zip Codes and perhaps the store locations they visit. Most important, you may know which sales channel they prefer and can target promotions with that channel in mind. If you have this information, you can develop an in-store email marketing strategy.

If your organization doesn’t have a database connection, you can still launch an in-store email marketing strategy. If you’ve collected any personally identifying information from offline customers, you can append email addresses to your database. Note: this is an approved and compliant tactic under the CAN-SPAM legislation.

You can also collect telephone numbers or email addresses at the point of sale. The worst customers can say is no. Considering companies such as Best Buy and Toys R Us already do this, you won’t break new ground in customer interactions.

Is It Right for You?

Does developing an in-store email program makes sense for your business? It’s unlikely you can convince people to visit your retail store for commodities such as books, music, office supplies, DVDs, vitamins, and so forth, unless you offer some incredible savings. Your best chance of influencing people to shop offline is with higher-priced goods.

First, look at your product line. Potential customers often research the following products online and purchase them through retail stores or dealers:

  • Vehicles
  • Furniture
  • Expensive clothing
  • Homes
  • Exercise equipment
  • Tractors

The higher the price tag, the more likely people are to buy it in person, so they can:

  • Test-drive a car.
  • Envision how the bedroom set will fit in a bedroom.
  • Try on a $1,000 suit, touch the fabric, and get an expert fitting.
  • Walk through a house for sale.
  • Try out a treadmill.
  • Check out the tractor’s features.

The offer is what motivate people to come to you, not a competitor. Develop a compelling offer and let the consumer know you have it available at retail. Use email to deliver it. To further motivate people to visit your store:

  • Send trackable coupons redeemable in all your sales channels.
  • Provide information about events, specials, and other in-store opportunities based on Zip Code.
  • Offer product inventory status at the closest location to the recipient.
  • Provide easy access to driving directions to the store location.
  • Talk about store-based amenities, such as:
    • Free pickup and delivery services
    • Financing options
    • Installation and repair services

You can also tie past purchases into current offers available only in stores. You might send an email to everyone who purchased grass seed, offering a discount on related items, such as a seed spreader, fertilizer, or sprinklers.

In this era of buying online, plenty of people still shop in stores. Do your part to drive them into yours.

Keep reading…

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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