With the explosive growth of large online retailers, continued investment in ecommerce sites by retail giants, and online stores popping up everywhere, retail competition is tougher than ever.
By Mark Boeder
So what can traditional retailers do to attract business in the digital world? The good news is that local, brick-and-mortar stores can combine traditional retail strategies with inexpensive digital tools to compete with, and even gain an edge over, their ecommerce counterparts.
Driving Traffic to Your Store: Old & New
Perhaps the biggest worry of traditional retailers is how to pull customers away from their smartphones and through their doors. Following are some ways to increase foot traffic to your store.
Advertise in Your Community
By default, most online stores are open to a national audience, but their ability to target a local community can be limited. Brick-and-mortar stores have the advantage of being able to use traditional marketing such as local signage, targeted mail or postcard campaigns, or even well-placed, inexpensive flyers or door hangers to advertise their business. Local stores can also gain advantages by being involved in the community, be it the local chamber of commerce, school board, or even church groups. If you can establish connections in your community, word-of-mouth can be very powerful in increasing foot traffic.
Establish an Online Presence to Aid In-Store Sales
Believe it or not, brick-and-mortar businesses can gain an advantage over large ecommerce sites by using digital tools. While it may sound counterintuitive, establishing an online presence is critical in order to pull customers away from their smartphones and into your store.
First off, it’s important to set up a website to highlight your business. Because most customers find information about stores in their area by searching online, it’s important that the content of your website include keywords that a customer would use in their search query, such as your city, state and the names of the products and services you offer. Make sure that your store and website are listed in your local online business pages to help the search engines find and list your store in local results.
According to a Google study, local searches via a smartphone lead to 50 percent of consumers visiting a store within one day, and nearly 18 percent of those people ultimately make in-store purchases! Thanks to location tools, Google helps the process by making it easy for customers to type “near me” into a smartphone search, which provides consumers with results in the immediate area. Google also has a local inventory ad service, where retailers can pay to advertise their local inventory online. When consumers click your listing, they arrive at a local “storefront” to view information on the product and get directions to your store.
Get Listed in Review Sites and Social Media
Be sure you are listed online with local review sites such as Yelp and Google Reviews. Monitor all reviews, and address any negative ones with positive actions. When customers express praise for what you do or sell, encourage them to leave positive reviews online. This can go a long way to creating buzz and making sure online searchers end up in your store.
You can also build your presence online by maintaining pages on Facebook, Pinterest and other social media sites. This doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Simply share information that is relevant and timely, including community content, tips, sales and promotions, events and other information that will encourage followers to share your posts with others.
If you are experiencing success online, you may want to experiment with localized pay-per-click adverting on Facebook or Google AdWords, or set up a listing on Groupon. Be sure you are using the tools available to target ads locally, and set a small budget limit – you don’t want to find out you wasted money on clicks from users on the other side of the country!
Create a Positive Customer Experience
Once you’ve succeeded in bringing people to your physical location, you need to pull out the stops to deliver a positive customer experience for them. You’ll do this by establishing human connections, triggering all five senses, and providing tips and services that the big ecommerce sites can’t offer. Your satisfied customers will not only come back again but also will tell others about your business.
Make the Physical Space Appealing
Not all successful stores are located in a quaint, luxurious shoppers’ paradise, and they don’t need to be. Keeping your storefront well-maintained, clean and easy to identify with proper signage will go a long way to making people feel good about entering the store. Adding a few “extras” outside, such as a sandwich board with the day’s specials, or appealing decorations in your windows, can also provide an added boost to get people through the door.
Once inside, make sure your customers feel important and at ease. When they are greeted by friendly staff and can easily locate quality products that meet their needs, visitors are more likely to purchase goods in your store.
Engage each of the five senses to create a positive feeling and make customers more likely to remember and share their experience. While appealing to their sense of sight, make sure customers can easily find the products they want with proper signage and an organized store layout. Engage their sense of sound with music that appeals to the largest customer demographic while matching the mood of your store. Be conscious of how your store smells, focusing on a subtle yet pleasant fragrance. Invite people to activate their sense of touch by offering products out of the box that they can touch. Finally, consider leaving food or drink samples that people can take and taste.
Have a Friendly, Knowledgeable Staff
These days, people can go online anywhere and anytime to buy products. To motivate them to make the effort to visit your store, you need to make them feel like they will get superior service. To this end, be sure your employees are trained to be friendly, available, attentive and able to anticipate each customer’s needs. Make sure you and your staff not only know your store and its products, but also how to connect with customers.
Offer Appealing Extras
While not all stores have the luxury of space, consider carving out a lounge section of your store for customers to sit and relax. Make this area match the theme of your store or how customers would normally engage with your products. For instance, set the area as a living room with a TV if you offer home products or as a campground if you offer outdoors equipment.
Free WiFi is always appealing to customers, as are free samples. If it fits the mood of your store, offer a “play zone” with toys for the kids or throwback video games such as Pac Man or air hockey. They key is to keep your customers engaged, while not distracting them.
Create Store Events
While sales and promotions are obvious events to increase foot traffic, you can also consider bringing customers to your store for fun events related to the products or services you offer. For instance, if you offer food or kitchenware, consider offering cooking classes on set days of the week. If you offer health foods or fitness equipment, consider offering yoga classes one day or after hours. If you have a make-up or clothing store but can’t afford to have an on-site stylist, consider bringing one in for demonstrations a few days a week.
Make Checkout Easy
In the end, it’s your store’s checkout experience that closes the deal. Take time to make sure your checkout process is as fast, secure and hassle-free as possible. When customers arrive at the checkout area, they should encounter a space that is well-organized and free of clutter. Be sure they are the center of your attention, and use modern equipment that accepts all the ways customers may want to pay, including EMV credit cards and NFC payments like Apple Pay. After the transaction, keep your business in the forefront of your customer’s memory by including a business card, flyer or refrigerator magnet with your store name and address in the bag along with their purchase.
Create a Loyalty Program
You can further your engagement by creating a customer loyalty program. Your POS software may already be equipped to help you set up and maintain your loyalty program by storing customer contact information and tracking purchases, enabling you to tailor a program that rewards people for repeat business, encourages them to refer friends and family, and provides members-only coupons and discounts. If you collect customer email information, you can send targeted offers to your loyalty database, making your most valuable consumers aware of upcoming sales and promotions. If you collect phone information, some POS systems will even send “push” messages to customer smartphones when they are near your store.
Go Where Your Customers Are
The funny thing about online stores is that they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Traditional stores can take advantage of their “real-world” presence by traveling to their customers with a mobile presence at large events, such as farmers’ markets, sports fields, concerts or even parks, assuming the proper fees or permits are remitted. Smaller shops may even be able to expand their presence seasonally in mall kiosks or other locations. From a payments perspective, there are many mobile payment equipment options to make this possible.
Don’t Fight the Ecommerce Trend; Join It
Finally, in the spirit of serving customers, giving them the option to buy your products both in-store and online can make a lot of sense. When the time is right, start an online branch of your business to put your products in front of more consumers, while giving local customers the option to buy online and pick up in-store. Setting ecommerce capabilities up on your website may take some effort, but it may be an investment worth making.
As you explore ways to attract customers to your store, be creative. Don’t overlook the inexpensive digital solutions available to you, but also leverage the unique knowledge you have through daily contact with your customers. You, more than any ecommerce giant, have the ability to appeal to your customers’ needs and senses and regularly bring them through your doors.
Mark Boeder is the director of marketing strategy for North American Bancard.