How to Prepare your Brick and Mortar Store for the Future

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If you manage a traditional retail store, you’re probably thinking about how you can stay in business when there’s so much digital competition.

It’s a very real concern for many retailers. As we’ve said before, people are buying more and more online. But those of us who regularly walk down neighbourhood streets know there is still and will probably always be room for the walk-ins. They help create a sense of place, and bringing your mates to a busy artisan market is a whole lot more social than sitting next to each other and shopping online. In fact, only a small percentage of overall sales even happen online, and despite the growth of e-commerce titans like Amazon, smart retail stores are still succeeding everywhere.

Still, not every store needs the same kind of changes to their business plan. It will largely depend on what you sell, how you sell it, and where your shoppers like going. Nevertheless, here are a few ways to consider future-proofing your traditional retail store.

First, let’s think about why people shop online.

E-commerce has grown dramatically for a few reasons, especially because it is

  • Convenient, especially for those who have a harder time going out to the shops due to distance, age, or a strong drive to stay in pyjamas
  • Time-saving. No waiting in queues. Search hundreds of stores in minutes. Delivered to you. 
  • Easier to find better prices. No more are the days of going to three stores for the same thing just to check prices and then decide. It’s right in front of you. 

And, why they don’t shop online.

  • You can’t try it on or see it in real life. This is a big problem for many, who want to feel the material on their new couch or see how those pants fit before taking them home. 
  • Shopping can be social. Plenty of people use wandering around a street with shops as a day out with their friends or family, browsing through stores and getting something to eat nearby. 
  • You can get it right away. If you’re looking for something specific, you can walk into a store and walk out with your purchase in hand right away. Even though delivery is getting faster and faster, sometimes there’s no replacement for now

But here’s the thing: shopping online or offline isn’t necessarily an either/or. Many stores are now offering the ability to do both, and incorporating the best of both worlds to their customers. Here are a few ways to do that.

You need to sell more than just stuff

To really draw people in these days, it’s important to focus on more than just inventory. Of course, inventory is a key part of your store - but focusing on an experience related to your inventory can be a way to keep people coming.

A few weeks ago, Outdoor Voices, an athletic wear company, launched a flagship retail store in San Francisco. As part of the launch, they hosted a morning run sponsored by Sufferfest beer for athletes. We went on a 5k run up lots of hills. It was hard. But we were definitely more inclined to buy Outdoor Voices gear afterward (especially with a beer in hand at the store) than we would have been just walking past. Similarly, Nike and Lululemon regularly host weekly in-store yoga or spin classes.

You’ve seen this plenty of times. Bookstores host readings. Cafes host open mics. Movie theatres host bars or cult film cosplay nights. These managers are thinking of their store not just as a place to hold inventory, but as a space that can be used creatively.

The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in the UK started out as a regular ol’ cafe, but has been creative about finding new opportunities for creating value. For example, not only do they sell their beans online, but they host coffee tasting classes and barista courses. They’ve even started selling co-working space memberships to encourage people to spend all day working in their cafe.

Finding ways to bring people who use your products in again and again through these kinds of experiences can be a great way to keep the momentum going and build loyalty.

Pop it up

Even if you’re not a pro event planner, there are other ways to bring a new experience to your store. Pop-ups are a rising trend, growing to nearly $10 billion in sales. They can be a great way to develop relationships with fellow retailers, bring in new crowds, and offer a sense of urgency or immediacy because they are only around for a limited time.

Want to learn more about hosting a pop-up retail booth? Here ya go.

In-store online shopping

Before we get into in-store online shopping, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page. There are a lot of advantages to offering whatever it is you sell in your retail store online as well. Many people now browse around in stores and decide to actually make their purchases online.

Adding new customer touchpoints and omni-channel retail practices, such as offering kiosks in your stores, directing visitors to your website (and those on your website to your store) and offering both home delivery and in-store pickup options can all help customers get a seamless experience with your brand.

This lets you get more personal with your customers. Based on their behaviour, demographics, and interests, you can give specific product recommendations and highly targeted email marketing after they’ve visited your store.

One example is Old Navy, which makes it clear to customers that anything they like in-store, a sales staff can have delivered to their home without any extra shipping fees. Those that shop in-store get extra coupons to use online-only, and those that shop online get coupons to use in-store. They have put a fair amount of resources into blending the line between shopping on and offline - and at each interaction, directing patrons to other ways they can shop.

Another example is this baby clothes wholesaler/retail store, which uses personalisation in-store to massively increase online sales.

A quick way you can encourage people in-store to go online is to use Shopcodes - QR codes with built-in discounts (if you want them) that browsers can scan and buy online. If you have a lot of people walking through your store but not making purchases, shopcodes are one way to get them onto your site once they leave your store.

Geo-target customers

Location is the first lesson you ever learn in business. It matters. And even though the world of e-commerce means location can matter less for online retailers, it might even matter more for brick-and-mortars.

We’re not just talking about where you choose to build your store. That’s definitely still important. But there are lots of new tools related to marketing that help you directly target people near you. For example, adjusting your SEO to help you mainly show up to those shopping in your area. Getting on Google Maps and apps like Yelp that rate local stores. Using Facebook and Instagram ads targeted at those in your area. These kinds of tactics can help you increase brand recognition for those who are most likely to come into your store.

Band together

Similar to creating an experience in your store, you can create an experience based on the stores in your neighbourhood. Brixton, for example, is a borough in South London that has made its own hyper-local currency along with a list of retailers in the area that accept it. Visitors to the area are encouraged to check out local stores they might have otherwise missed if they hadn’t formed an alliance. Focusing on place-based branding and encouraging local pride in the area is a great way to keep the interest of people walking through an area and attract more foot traffic.

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