By Alex Gladu
Small businesses may be known for their brick-and-mortar locations, but consumers are becoming increasingly known for their online habits. Large retailers are already starting to adapt, building mobile-optimized websites and offering a more robust inventory via a complementary website and in-store experience. It’s not too late for small businesses to enter the omni-channel space, blending brick-and-mortar with online sales, but it’s important to know what space you’re getting into.
Overall, consumers still prefer shopping in person. According to PwC’s annual consumer survey, 40 percent of consumers make purchases in a brick-and-mortar store at least once a week. Only 27 percent make an online purchase in that time frame. The biggest barrier to online retail growth is shipping, according to the study – 65 percent of consumers shop in-store in order to avoid paying a delivery fee. That doesn’t mean businesses can avoid the digital age, though. Even if they’re still making purchases predominantly in-store, consumers are increasingly looking to websites and social media to learn more about stores, brands and products. For instance, PwC’s survey revealed that 36 percent of consumers buy more from a particular brand as a result of engagement on social media. Additionally, three-quarters of consumers browse for products online before heading to the brick-and-mortar store. In this way, a store’s online and mobile channels have the opportunity to bolster brand awareness, brand loyalty and sales, even if they don’t entirely replace the brick-and-mortar business.
Omni-channel retailing is all about creating a complementary experience for consumers. If consumers can find the information they’re looking for on your website or social media platforms, they may be more likely to come into your store to make a purchase. This is good news for small businesses, which tend to thrive in brick-and-mortar, interpersonal situations with customers.
“Our relationships are built in the brick-and-mortar stores, where we captivate our customers by touching all five of their senses,” says Alison Dodson Anderson of A. Dodson’s, a specialty gift store in southeastern Virginia. “We maintain our strong relationships with them through our website and social media, where they can continue to shop our curated collection of home and fashion goods 24 hours a day.”
One of the challenges to omni-channel retailing is that different platforms require different strategies. As Anderson points out, building relationships with customers online is difficult without the interpersonal engagement. As a result, businesses shouldn’t necessarily try to replicate their brick-and-mortar location on the Web; it takes more strategy than that.
“In order to be successful online, a lot of factors go into the products we choose to sell on our website,” Anderson says. “Price, packaging and competitive landscape all must be researched before putting a product online. Tools such as Google AdWords and analytics are a must in today’s landscape.”
Another challenge is understanding the different audiences that you’re reaching online versus in the store. For instance, it’s no surprise that millennials are much more likely to shop online than any other age group. A recent report from BI Intelligence revealed that 18- to 34-year-olds spend more money online than any other age group — about $2,000 per year. What might surprise you, though, is that men drive almost the same amount of spending online as women, despite making fewer purchasing decisions for the household. Men are also more likely to make a purchase via a mobile device. Knowing these trends can help you better tailor and target your digital presence to certain consumers.
Despite the surge in e-commerce in recent years, small businesses can rest assured that brick-and-mortar retail isn’t going anywhere any time soon. However, building up a robust online channel to complement in-store sales can help convert more consumers to loyal customers.
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Alex recently graduated the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with B.A.s in Journalism and Spanish. Since becoming a writer for Independent We Stand, she has fully adopted the ‘buy local’ lifestyle. Her favorite indie business is Sugarland, a bakery in Chapel Hill, N.C, where she has been known to go a little cupcake crazy. She hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit or political communication.