Future of Brick-and-Mortar
The retail industry has been seeing an increase in e-commerce with an underlying fear the business model is suffering a slow but eventual demise. The fact is, the retail industry has been slow but steady, and rather than a decline in brick-and-mortar we have been seeing a fusion of online sales and brick-and-mortar services. Retail shopping is moving toward a kind of omnichannel, where differences between brick-and-mortar shopping, online shopping, mobile phone shopping, and telephone shopping are becoming blurred. Online storefronts will continue to bring in a steadily growing share of sales, and brick-and-mortar is part of its future. The continuing rise of online sales will make brick-and-mortar locations more valuable, not less.
Future of Commerce
As evidenced by the success of Amazon and other digital retailers, consumer purchases online continue to grow. According to the Wall Street Journal, statistically, one in three of those online purchases leads to a return. If given the option of returning the item through repackaging the item and shipping it back for a future refund, a good number of individuals will choose immediate gratification by returning the product to a local address.
Value of the Experience
The biggest draw to online shopping besides the at your fingertip convenience is the price. The lowest price, although a known attractor, is the weakest link in the consumer chain since it lacks the component of loyalty. Since there is no established relationship between consumer and retailer other than price point, as soon as the consumer finds a lower price, that fragile link is broken. Deeper customer loyalty is only forged when price and a pleasant shopping experience are combined. As experienced by many electronics stores, there are still many consumers who won’t make a major purchase without trying out the device in the store, doing additional online research, and then ultimately, ordering the item online. The same process occurs in furnishings. There is currently no digital imagery that offers the same reinforcing experience as sitting in a chair or touching a fabric.
In both instances, the live experience weighs heavily on purchasing decisions. Amazon.com began acknowledging the importance of brick-and-mortar when it entered the retail store market in 2015 with its bookstore at Purdue University and most recently with the purchase of Whole Foods.
Store staff is pivotal in transitioning toward a unified online-live retail business model. Sales associates become more than shelf-stockers or order takers, they become the store’s personal shopper, giving advice about styles, trends, and helping store visitors navigate the return process thereby converting those returns into new store sales.
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Effect of Social Media
Navigation into the personal shopper role demands sales associates have a firm grasp of what is being said in digital environments such as on blogs, Yelp, and other review sites. Today’s informed consumers are increasingly aware through digital media. Not being prepared with the same level of information as the consumer puts your sales staff at a distinct disadvantage with potential embarrassment and lost sales if caught unaware and are unable to answer customer questions. The result is a lesser experience and the main purpose of reinforcing relationships is defeated.
Keep up with well-informed consumers by implementing:
- Processes to constantly monitor online conversations,
- Evaluation methods to consider what key influencers are saying,
- Procedures for timely rebuttable to any negative comments, providing evidence why a review of inaccurate or biased; rectify any wrongdoing, and acknowledge positive feedback on digital platforms.
- Information flow to in-house sales staff to rebut any negative comments. Be prepared to show the customer why the review was inaccurate or biased.
Train all staff to be customer-winning personal shoppers by implementing a training model that incorporates customer service skill sets into the regular part of each staff member’s day. Use tools such as in-store electronics, content caching/distribution, associates’ personal smartphones and the like.
- Start a typical day with a video briefing from the analyst who monitors online conversations. Follow up with a summary by emailing a list of talking points to employee smartphones.
- Deliver archived training sessions and interactive discussions with corporate instructors to new employees or make available for on-demand review or self-paced training through smartphone, tablet, or break room monitor.
- Implement policy such as compensating employees in whole or in part for self-paced training to encourage consistency.
Look to the future for a more widespread retail model that consists of online sales combined with excellent brick-and-mortar experiences relying heavily on top-notch customer service. Today’s employees are digitally perceptive and open to training systems that teach them how to create deeper customer loyalty. Such on-demand training will lead to more satisfied staff as they are better prepared to address on-the-floor concerns. Who wouldn’t prefer to offer knowledge, advice, and meaningful consultation when cultivating strong customer service?
Businesses that grasp this omnichannel business model, blending online and brick-and-mortar services, will separate themselves as a leader in the exploding world of retail.