Sparks Fly When Online Meets Offline
The retailer/consumer relationship has changed dramatically in the last decade and it's not only because there are more products and services available than ever before. With social media and smartphones playing an increasingly prominent role in how shoppers form purchasing decisions, today's most competitive merchants are realizing that in order to succeed they need to engage consumers via technology.
Historically, some local brick-and-mortar retailers have viewed the internet as a threat. However, there are compelling reasons for them to integrate an online component, such as their own website or compatibility with a local shopping engine that enables comparison shopping to their sales and technology plans for the coming year. Here's why:
- Forrester Research forecasts that cross-channel shopping sales will total $1.3 trillion, more than 40 percent of total retail sales, by 2013.
- Research from eBay Local shows that nearly three-quarters of shoppers research deals online before heading to a store.
These changing shopping behaviors, which will take place with even greater frequency as smartphones become staples across all demographics, mean that retailers who don't engage with consumers via technology take themselves out of the competitive mix.
The internet can't be looked at as the competitor. In fact, brick-and-mortar retailers can leverage the internet to not only maintain equal footing with online competitors, but to actively drive customer loyalty and foot traffic through their front doors. New retail technologies combined with the following five marketing best practices can help any retailer gain visibility for their products and prices as well as thrive in a converging commercial environment:
1. Know your customer. A key factor in a retailer's decision on whether to launch a full-service website or just offer product information via a shopping engine should be customer preferences. If a typical shopper likes to touch and "experience" a store's products, simply listing inventory on a site that connects shoppers with products and prices at local stores could generate a significant spike in foot traffic. It's also a much more cost-efficient way to make sure your products show up on the web.
2. Get help. A fully functioning, customized website can be cost prohibitive for manysmall retailers. Online resources such as larger selling and e-commerce software platforms, however, are lowering that cost barrier to ensure brick-and-mortar retailers of all sizes can share their merchandise online.
3. Be seen. Retailers should make sure that all their online properties — a website or an application that houses products for browsing, storing and purchase — are optimized for mobile browsers. According to Pew Internet Research, more than half of adult cell phone owners used their cell phones while in-store during the 2011 holiday season to seek help with purchasing decisions. This illustrates just how integral mobile technologies have become within the retail industry. Stores can further improve online visibility with well-considered local search strategies.
4. Embrace the web … in-store. More retailers are offering free Wi-Fi on premise in order to enable consumers to compare prices and product features in-store. One benefit to this transparency is added trust. The retailer is there to immediately discuss with shoppers what their online research is showing and can even offer a matching or competitive price in order to save a sale if a shopper finds a lower price elsewhere.
5. Promote the positive. Retailers should let their communities know of the economic and environmental benefits of shopping locally. Loyal customers can be rewarded for "following" and "liking" a business or with Twitter-only coupons that can be redeemed in-store.
Consumers are shifting their behavior to a "shop anywhere, anytime" mentality, and Main Street retailers who haven't yet established an online presence have a wide variety of low maintenance, effective, low cost and even free ways to get started. The research online, buy offline trend holds tremendous opportunity for those merchants who view it as retail progress, not peril.
Jack Abraham is director of local at eBay. Jack Abraham can be reached on Twitter @jackabraham.