- By Michael Boriero
Retail Industry chatter has been remarkably universal: brick and mortar stores are losing their appeal. The narrative goes: these businesses are slowly dying out simply because consumers are more enticed by the convenience of online shopping: you don’t have to leave your home, and your order gets delivered straight to your door; what could be better than that? But what if we told you that physical locations are actually being leveraged by the savviest retail brands? Forward thinking brands realize one thing: offline experiences are a vital part of the customer journey, and if you’re going to be ever-present in the conscience of consumers, you had better make a positive impact when a customer considers visiting you in-store.
Don’t get us wrong: launching an online store is a great strategy. It allows you to collect online data, which in turn can be used to solidify your customer journey. By analyzing your customers’ habits and behaviours, you can perfect your segmentation, explore predictive analytics and, most importantly, offer a suite of continuously evolving customized offers. You know the drill. In the same respect, e-commerce also allows for steady growth, which can ultimately lead to expansion. The question is: why should expansion come in the form of physical stores, when ecommerce is growing 3x faster than its offline counterpart?
The simple answer: online retailers lack a certain personality and human scale that physical retailers offer — indeed, consumers want the quick and seamless experience, but that doesn’t mean they want to lose the human experience. In fact, a study conducted by payments company Ayden concluded that 63% of respondents confirmed they would shop more if “preferred” experiences were guaranteed: short lines and great staff are hallmarks of a “preferred” experience. The study also nodded to the expectations of omnichannel: loyalty programs should be ‘automatically’ considered at the time of in-store purchase, and mobile payments seamless.
There’s something special about entering a store, grabbing a piece of clothing, feeling the material, and interacting with helpful employees that know your name. Brick and mortar stores are unparalleled in their ability to develop stronger customer relationships from in-person experiences. You won’t remember a delivery coming to your door, but you will — guaranteed– remember getting a complimentary glass of champagne as you tried on that cashmere sweater.
The problem is traditional brick and mortar stores aren’t taking action. In fact, according to a recent study, retailers using sales transactions as their primary measurement for visitor traffic are underestimating their numbers by an average of 90 per cent. This inaction has rendered many stores small in the shadow of larger online retailers.
But there’s hope. Physical retailers are exploring new avenues, which includes using the online customer journey and incorporating it into their strategy. It has become a proven tactic for driving in-store traffic, while providing physical retailers with a 360 degree overview of their consumers. It’s enabling them to nail down their analytical insights, allowing them to identify crucial touch points along the journey (not just point of sale), and dive into multi-channel campaigns.
Still unsure? These three clicks-to-bricks journeys prove the new omnichannel norm involves all consumer touch points: from behind the screen to the cash register.
THREE E-RETAILERS TAKING TO THE STREETS
This online retailer started in 2007 with two things in mind: to cater to the many men who hate shopping, and to create the most comfortable pants on the market. They’ve certainly achieved both, and more — having expanded into different types of clothing, as well as opening 30 brick and mortar locations! Bonobos’ founder, Andy Dunn, took a popular cliché about men’s shopping habits and ran with it.
After nearly three years spent honing their craft, Dunn identified that Bonobos could expand beyond than the online realm. The concept was simple enough: Customers want to have a seamless in-store experience with little baggage. So, to appease the masses, Dunn developed his team of Ninjas (yes, that’s what they call themselves) to help people while they explored the vast stockpile of clothing within the store. Customers book a one-hour session, tailor their clothes, order online, leave the store without any bags and receive their custom clothing in the mail 1-2 days later. Easy peasy.
Similarly, Warby Parker was developed as an online retailer. They offer high-end glasses at budget-friendly prices — suitable for anyone who is tired of paying top dollar for an accessory that is likely to go out of style in a few years. Meanwhile, they’ve become standout advocates for the less fortunate in need of eyewear. Of course, their business model changed when, out of sheer coincidence, it morphed to include a brick and mortar strategy as well.
Co-founder Neil Blumenthal had customers physically try on glasses at his apartment one day, which gleaned positive reviews. The consensus was that customers felt the experience was more special than purchasing online. Blumenthal jumped at the opportunity and now Warby Parker is hoping to someday open 800 to 1,000 stores.
Jeff Bezos and co. hardly require any introduction. Amazon has propelled itself to the forefront of innovation in the e-commerce realm with their unparalleled consumer insights. They’re experimenting with drone delivery, in-house delivery, and expanding into food services, among other endeavors.
But, most surprisingly, in 2016 the e-retail giant opened its first brick and mortar local: a bookstore in Seattle. While the move is unprecedented, seeing as Amazon does more than fine for itself online, it’s likely an avenue for them to vacuum up even more consumer information. The store contains only a fraction of their tremendous online library — mainly the books that received the most positive online reviews. Bezos will always be a consumer data junkie. Shopping in-store is yet another path for the retail mogul to identify new points to mine in the customer journey.
THE NEVERENDING PURSUIT FOR CONSUMER DATA
Each of these online retailers had their own unique reasons for expanding into the world of brick and mortar. Although, the one thing they have in common was the sensibility to realize brick and mortars have a serious advantage for their brand. Consumers are still attracted to in-store shopping, and business can leverage the data from their foot traffic and evolve their understanding of customer behaviours — and refine their customer journey.
Not to mention, it’s another way for businesses to foster strong customer relationships and refine their marketing tactics. Of course, it goes without saying that establishing a brick and mortar location isn’t the be-all-end-all for these three online retailers. In the end, these are just tools to generate more online traffic — the trick is getting customers to go from online to offline to online again — a seamless switch between the two.