It’s no secret that online shopping has become exponentially more common in recent years. Benefits like same-day shipping and readily available customer reviews have caused many consumers to ditch the stores and stay home to order online. In fact, store visits have dropped virtually every month for the past two years, according to ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based data firm.
In the wake of this mass exodus from physical stores, brick-and-mortar businesses – especially small businesses – have to adapt. In order to stay viable as both profitable businesses and engines of local reinvestment and job creation, these stores have to challenge the online model and draw customers back in. Here’s a look at how they can compete.
1. Be proud of the brick-and-mortar benefits.
Online shopping often seems more convenient for consumers with a busy lifestyle and an affinity for technology, but there are some things that brick-and-mortar businesses will always do better. No one likes to return or exchange products online, for example. To stay successful, small brick-and-mortar businesses can capitalize on what they’ve always been known for: their stellar customer service, inviting atmospheres and customer-friendly return policies. When customers know that they can ask questions, get expert advice and return their purchase with no hassle, they’ll be more likely to turn to brick-and-mortar stores than online retailers.
2. Turn first-time visitors into loyal customers.
First-time visitors are perhaps the biggest opportunity that small businesses face on a daily basis. When they have an enjoyable shopping experience, they’re not only more likely to return, but they’re also apt to tell their friends to visit your store. Make sure these customers become loyal advocates of your store by rewarding them for their loyalty. Offer customer rewards cards with exclusive deals and bonuses or a deal-of-the-month club to bring them back in time after time.
3. Give shoppers a unique reason to visit.
Online retailers offer shoppers a direct, straightforward path to a specific product, but brick-and-mortar stores have the opportunity to offer shoppers a total experience. If you own a trendy apparel boutique, host a fashion show to let shoppers preview your store’s picks for next season. If you own a hardware store, invite shoppers to a free DIY class, where they can learn how to use your products around the house. These types of experiences will set your Main Street store apart from the impersonal avenue of online retailers.
4. Be visible in the community.
Online retailers offer little in the way of personal interaction. As a brick-and-mortar business in the community, your store has the opportunity to welcome customers in and become a destination for members of the community. To make relationships with shoppers in your community, give them a chance to meet you and your employees at community-wide festivals, parades and other events. Set up a table where members of the community can learn about your store, pick up a free sample or get to know your employees.
5. Reach out to customers online.
You already know that more and more shoppers are heading online to research and shop for products that you offer in-store. Why not put your business where they’re looking? You can start selling products online by creating your own platform or setting up an account on an existing one, like eBay or Etsy. Even if you don’t want to sell products online, you can use the increased web traffic as an opportunity to advertise your business and its benefits in a new way.
The competition from online retailers is affecting brick-and-mortar businesses big and small, but it doesn’t have to knock your business out of the game completely. Take advantage of your strengths and be open to some new ideas so you can adapt to today’s market and serve today’s shoppers.