It is an undoubted fact that customers are looking more and more to online services for their shopping needs – but this does not mean that traditional brick and mortar stores can’t compete, or indeed thrive.
There are certain areas where online outlets are at a disadvantage compared to their retail store equivalents – identifying these areas and ensuring they are optimised will aid your business in competing with these companies.
Perhaps the most obvious form of competition comes with pricing your stock. Online retailers have less overheads and physical costs, but there are ways of remaining competitive without slashing your profit margins. Evaluate your purchase costs, can they be reduced? This might come from purchasing items at a bulk rate, cutting out middlemen or sourcing new suppliers. Keeping a close eye on your outgoings may allow you to reduce sales costs without affecting your profits.
Pricing is not the only area in which brick and mortar stores can compete against online stores – there are other strategies that you may think about putting in place to capitalise on having a physical store.
Does your shop have a unique selling point (USP)? Do you have something that no other store does? Bringing in exclusive lines or products can be a way of generating interest and sales. Identifying and promoting a USP could bring customers to you for those specific products, and once you have them in the store – interesting displays and helpful staff could see further promotion and sales of your other products.
It may sound obvious, but it is worth remembering that your shop provides a hands-on experience with the products that a shopper cannot get online. If a customer is looking to try before they buy, then with the right approach and interaction, these experiences could be converted into sales.
This also ties directly into your next advantage – your staff. Customers want a good all round experience, where customer service can range from as little as a smile or conversation, to home installation or after care. The right staff with the right training will encourage customer loyalty, and not only generate repeat sales, but organic promotion and a positive reputation.
Reputation is also something a store can use to greater advantage than an online storefront. Creating loyalty programs, and interacting with the community in the form of sponsorship or a presence at events are all activities that will likely encourage good will and a positive association with your brand.
You may also wish to consider linking with other local businesses – you promote their products and services as they promote yours (for example, a salon may partner with a boutique with the salon offering a discount for the products in the boutique when a customer uses their services, and the boutique offering a reduction on the salon’s services when their products are purchased).
A service growing in popularity is ‘Click and Collect’ where customers can order products online and collect them from a designated area – either in store, or at a separate location. Offering this service will allow your customers a greater flexibility to engage with your brand, and a convenience that is individually tailored to their personal benefit. If you have your collection point in store, it also allows you the chance to place other goods at the tills to encourage more point of sale purchases.
An emphasis on the speed and convenience of your services and products should be a key factor to highlight. At present, even the fastest online service is unlikely to see purchases arriving with the customer on the same day – but when they shop with you, they are getting their products immediately; encourage your customers to see that this is to their benefit.
It has to be said though, that for all you can appeal and optimise your brick and mortar store, when you are versus online shopping, having an online presence yourself is a must. It doesn’t have to be a shop, although there are many easy to use storefront softwares available – even if you don’t want to fully stock the store, they are extremely useful for listing slow moving or end of line stock that no longer fits in with the look of the physical store.
An online presence is necessary to spread word of mouth and increase your brand recognition. It also allows you to inform your customers of upcoming promotions and events, to ensure opening and closing times are made widely available, and to ensure your customers are able to contact you.
By drawing together a positive and knowledgeable staff, creating a welcoming atmosphere, encouraging a positive reputation (both online and in your local community), you increase the strength of your brand, and your brick and mortar store can compete with online businesses.