Retail Therapy: 3 Secrets Behind Thriving Brick-and-Mortars
When it comes to the fate of brick-and-mortar stores, the jury is still out; for every store closing, there seems to be another one opening. Yet the numbers don’t lie. In the first quarter of 2017 alone, nine major retail chains filed bankruptcy. This is equal to the total number of all filings in 2016. Meanwhile, more names continue to be added to the list of traditional retailers that are at risk of closing.
From the glass-is-half-full perspective, we see Amazon.com opening physical stores, Apple producing jaw-dropping retail sales per square foot, and Wegmans openings have become a cultural experience. Along with this, traditional retailers are now offering local, handcrafted items and artisan and culinary products in their stores, creating "retailtainment" establishments, and further closing the gap between online and offline experiences.
These retailers are successful because they really understand consumers. Arguably, the retailers that are facing challenges today would also say they understand their customers. They engage customers online, invest in employee training and take advantage of technology to support the omnichannel experience. What makes one retailer successful while another one shutters its stores?
While there are lots of factors that impact the health of retailer, those that are doing well today share three common traits.
- On social media and in real life, they don’t just ask their fans for advice on how to improve the customer experience. Instead, they reach out to audiences that aren’t aware of them. They also spend time learning about the competition’s fans to better understand why and how they’ve cultivated their audience.
- They understand consumers will always want to browse physical stores to spot the latest trends, see and touch goods before making a purchase, and identify with a brand. They apply this knowledge and have figured out how to make their spaces more experiential. The old-school retail setup of racks and endcap displays creates barriers for shoppers and reinforces the short-term transactional nature of brick-and-mortar stores. Experiential spaces are destinations where customers want to spend time, which ultimately opens their wallets.
- They’ve cracked the omnichannel code. Every retailer struggles with creating a seamless online-to-offline experience for customers, especially given how many channels exist to engage them. Those that have figured out how to personalize the experience and continue the conversation in person or online reap the benefits of repeat sales and positive word-of-mouth. The best way to do this is to prioritize customer engagement over sales. Since 82 percent of customers conduct research online before making a purchase, according to a recent Forbes survey, the in-person experience needs to be memorable and informative beyond what’s freely available online. Retailers that engage customers in a more consultative way — one that can’t be easily replicated online — will set the standard for the next generation of brick and mortar. Backing up this claim, that same Forbes survey found that friendly and helpful associates are the biggest reason for in-store visits.
These days, it’s impossible to find a retailer that doesn’t focus on the customer experience — or at least state it as a priority. Yet many retailers are still stuck in their traditional ways. Unless they shift how they attract and engage customers, they’ll continue to struggle to compete.
Jane Hiscock is the president of Farland Group, a B-to-B marketing and customer engagement agency.