Crisis, crisis, crisis.
The press love to tell us that retail is dying and that online stores are the future. There is no doubt that the online environment has had an impact on brick and mortar shops, but it is not as gloomy as our media friends like to portray. TimeTrade found that 85 per cent of consumers prefer physical stores to online shopping.
In fact, this year Amazon opened their first traditional retail store in Seattle and their second in Southern California. Would that be an online giant’s smart business move if they believed brick and mortar stores were dying?
Well, they aren’t and here are five reasons why brick and mortar shops are here to stay.
Touch and feel
Not being able to hold the product is one of the most common comments from website customers. There are some types of stores that suffer from this more than others, but it is a regularly cited argument for brick and mortar shops.
In many ways, it is not as predictable as one would think. For example, it is quite normal for customers to want to feel and see clothes in the flesh. However, by that logic, products like a mass-produced video game, which has less variation in production standard, would be more popular online — particularly when considering the target market is likely to be predominantly tech-savvy shoppers.
And yet, despite Amazon’s release of its same-day delivery service, it has struggled to compete with physical stores for game sales. A recent study found that 77 per cent of games were bought in brick and mortar stores. This is the highest share of game sales that the high street has seen in five years.
When asked, gamers attributed this to the experiential element of a trip to the game store, particularly when they were changing console. Which brings us onto…
If you haven’t heard about experiential marketing, it is worth a quick read-up. Experiential marketing seeks to capitalise on the fact that humans remember things better when they are emotionally engaged. Remember that first concert? Or the name of your first partner? Yes, probably. Remember the exact time of breakfast time this morning? Perhaps not.
By emotionally connecting someone with the store, owners ask them to love the brand. It is the age-old brand loyalty argument, but on steroids. As a retailer, it is the primary advantage over the online competition. What’s more, shoppers are choosing to spend money on experiences rather than on products. By ensuring that the store comes to life and truly engages customers, owners can harness that drifting part of the market and ward off online retailers.
Ability to speak to a real-life person
Everyone in the modern world has been driven crazy by a call centre or a live chat at some point. All that endless trawling through automatic responses and selecting the right number, only to find that none of the numbers apply to the problem and 10 minutes of listening to terrible music did nothing to help find a solution.
Not in a brick and mortar store. Wander over, talk to the assistant, they are usually incredibly helpful and equally pleased to talk to someone in person.
A lot of consumers would sooner talk to an assistant than navigate the Narnia that has become the online version of ‘help’ and ‘information’. Well trained, motivated staff can be one of a physical store’s biggest assets, especially when it comes to high priced items such as furniture and technology.
None of that delivery faff
There are some lucky people with understanding bosses who allow items to sent to the workplace. But for many, hoping that the stars align and the parcel arrives on time can be a bit stressful.
Brick and mortar stores make it simple. Pick that nice blouse without worrying about connection speeds or time-out issues, pay the lovely assistant and the rest of day can be spent on other activities.
Retailers should ensure that they capitalise on this by stocking amply and having knowledgeable staff readily available to speak to customers. The benefits of a brick and mortar store are somewhat shattered when the customer has to be told that a product must be ordered in, or that they should look online instead.
Try not to push customers online in this negative way, because they may begin thinking they are wasting a journey, which could prevent future in-store visits.
The best of both worlds
Integrated communication is a beautiful thing, so much so that every marketer worth their salt goes out of their way to unite them.
Online stores have to work harder to engage customers as successfully as a physical store can. Their physical customer touch points are more scarce and integration is not as slick. In addition, it is more difficult to create a sense of urgency.
With a brick and mortar store, the online and social environment can be used to drive people to the store or promotional event, like a flash sale or a celebrity giving a makeup demonstration.
The battle to win is to get people into the store because that means the motivation was excellent and now the customer is in the right condition to encourage a sale. They have already been drawn in by the online promotion and have made the effort to arrive.
They are prepared, ready-to-buy, good quality traffic. The in-store environment then feeds into the online environment, as customers take selfies and post about their #AwesomeDay.
This is much more difficult for an online retailer. They can use their social media, online PR and offline methods, such as magazine advertising, to drive people to their website, but they have no natural affinity with their local audience.
Online stores also suffer from the challenges brought around by the internet; shopping around for the cheapest price is easier online, which has made online customers more fickle.
As global website quality heightens, it becomes harder and harder to produce a truly immersive website. However, if they are already enticed into the physical store, a beautiful environment in which to browse will ensure they want and hang around. They will enjoy shopping for the sake of shopping, which is exactly the ideal atmosphere.
With a brick and mortar store, customers can engage with online and offline as they choose. They can pick the best of both worlds: the fun and hype of online, mixed with the vibrant atmosphere of in-store — these two features combine to make a great brand image.
Brick and mortar shops aren’t going anywhere, and until shoppers can feel the texture of a cloth on the screen and truly be immersed in an online store, I won’t be worrying about the innovative retailers that are looking after our high streets.
Author Bio: Ali Newton is the Marketing Executive for the The Display Centre, where a team of creative experts provide shop fittings and display equipment, including bespoke items. Ali combines her fine art and fashion qualifications with her market research experience and psychology degree to help retailers drive their sales.