Main Street Needs a Dash of E-Commerce
Amazon is an enormous competitive threat to brick and mortar retailers. And yet, we all know local shops that thrive, that are the go-to store for that something special. Those “Main Street” stores are able to hold their own in the face of daunting competition. Recently, Walker Sands’ released a study offering tried and true ways that retailers can distinguish themselves from huge commerce entities.
First, an omnichannel experience is a must. As they say in New York, you can “forgetaboutit” if you don’t offer inventory checking online or click and collect. Customers are demanding spillover between the online and brick and mortar worlds. Walker Sands’ found that consumers shop on different devices simultaneously. It’s not unusual to spy someone on Amazon while looking at a Vizio television at Costco, for example. The firm said 64 percent of consumers have used their mobile device to research products while in a brick-and-mortar location. So it’s critical for retailers to provide a seamless experience as they move from a mobile device to in-store to their laptops.
Second, encourage the mobile device inside the store. Gamification can be a fun way to engage customers and get them to explore less-trafficked parts of the store — which are still relevant to their shopping habits. Other shoppers may be enticed by navigational assistance; 52 percent of those surveyed told Walker Sands’ they would be more likely to shop at a retailer offering in-store navigation on a mobile device. Fifty-nine percent would be more likely to shop at a store offering self-checkout via a mobile device. However, issues with shrinkage and theft already exist in self checkout that is handled by front line registers, so permitting it via handheld devices would require significant security assurances for retailers.
Third, and finally, personalization is a particularly popular reason shoppers enjoy the Amazon experience: 44 percent of respondents said they “strongly agree” or “agree” that they want product recommendations based on past purchases. It’s somewhat ironic that an online-only retailer is thought of as offering more personalized service than the local retailer. Personal service is the birthright of the neighborhood shop.
However, somewhere along the way, that birthright was squandered. The shopkeeper felt squeezed by economic pressures. Rents go up, but customers, feeling the pinch too, cut back on spending. Product selection changed, and, often, quality decreased. Frequent shoppers become occasional browsers. Shopkeepers wound up with fewer regulars and couldn’t know the preferences — much less the names — of the shoppers who only visited on occasion.
Technology can change the lot of the local store owner. Embrace the omnichannel; almost any store can offer a buy online pickup in store option (click and collect). Mobile devices are a fact of life; the store that fears them does themselves more harm than good. And while it’s true that customers are more transient than ever, a strong loyalty program based on data analytics that offers relevant customer incentives will go a long way in moving local retailers’ future from shaky ground to solid footing in the new year.