How can bricks and mortar retail compete with online?
There's no doubt that online spending is increasing – lives are busy, online shopping is convenient. This sounds like bad news for retailers, but it’s not the whole story. Sure, the customer attraction game is changing – consumers have more choice so you have to fight harder to win their custom. But if you’re willing to play the game you can offer things that no online retailer can compete with.
The key is giving customers a good reason to come into your store. What's in it for them that trumps browsing online and clicking a button?
In our experience, increasing footfall in physical stores can be split into two areas:
Customer Experience – encouraging consumers to return to your business
Marketing – increasing awareness of your business among new customers.
And both of these areas should be underpinned with hard data – what activity is working and what should be switched off or reallocated. In that sense, retailers have a lot to learn. Data and analytics are seen as the domain of eComm, but with modern tech it is entirely possible to track behaviour and optimise activity accordingly, even in a physical store.
That’s exactly what we’ve been doing for companies like Ikea, Clarks and River Island over the past 20 years. And in that time we’ve learnt a thing or two about shopper psychology and what it takes to win the online/offline battle. Read on for 55 of the best footfall generating ideas we’ve come across.
The Customer Experience
Technology as a customer engagement tool
A recent study by Retail Systems Research showed that technology was key to driving the customer experience, with ‘Making the store more fun’ and ‘Improving the customer experience’ cited as the top two use cases for in-store technology. But how do you go about it?
Take your loyalty scheme further – most retailers have a loyalty scheme, but many just reward purchases then wait for the customer to come back. But the intel that you can leverage from loyalty data is invaluable. With proactive analysis of your CRM it’s possible to identify many opportunities to turn these customers into opportunities for recurring footfall. Here are some ideas:
Offer double-point events for brand advocates who post reviews about their in-store experience.
Send reminders to members who have unspent loyalty points, highlighting in-store offers that they could spend their points on.
Send targeted offers to members who haven’t made recent purchases to win them back.
Offer point bonuses on the anniversary of their membership registration.
Send notifications to members as they approach a new customer loyalty tier.
Reward currently active members with experiences, such as trunk shows, free makeovers, sneak peeks of new product lines, etc to make them feel valued.
Improve the shopper experience
Technology can be used to streamline and optimise the customer experience in lots of ways. Here are some of the best ideas we’ve seen.
- Set up a click and collect service on your website. When customers are in the store they are more likely to buy something else. Train your staff to up-sell items that will complement the ones being collected.
Install an appointment booking facility on your website. This works well for restaurants, fashion retailers with personal shopping services, beauty services in department stores and bridal shops, etc.
Install self-service or mobile order points and checkouts to make shopping easier. Nordstrom use mobile POS apps to allow staff to checkout customers anywhere in its stores, which reduces queue times to almost nothing.
Offer customers free Wi-Fi so they can browse product information and get personalised recommendations.
Get management out of the office and onto the sales floor by automating processes that tie them to their desks – provide them with mobile tech to help them stay on top of critical KPI's and alerts. StoreTech’s suite of tools is designed to liberate store managers from admin so they can focus on growing your business.
Look for light touch, easy-to-use systems to cut down on the time it takes to train staff, and avoid the technology being abandoned after a few weeks. Always ask, ‘Does this make things easier?’ If not then walk away!
Make it fun
The most innovative application of technology in stores has got to be for entertainment. If you can entertain your customers then you are giving them a good reason to get off their sofa and into your shop, and that’s the secret to winning the online/offline tug of war. Some of these ideas are a bit wild, but might just inspire you to spice things up a bit!
iBeacons allow mobile apps to listen for signals from beacons in the physical world. You can install them around your store and use them to deliver hyper-contextual messages to passers-by. One of the more creative ideas we’ve seen a retailer employee is to use their iBeacons to create a sort of scavenger hunt. Customers get alerted when they enter ‘hot zones’ and are given some information about a product, along with a task to complete. Executed well this is a great opportunity to educate and engage your customers!
Use augmented reality to surprise and delight. 20 years ago, the idea of an interactive hologram was pure science-fiction, but now it’s within reach, but not so commonplace that the novelty has worn off. You could hire a developer to create a hologram to welcome shoppers into the store, to provide suggestions in the changing room or entertain people whilst they queue.
Setup iPads around the store for your customers to watch promotional videos or enter on-the-spot competitions.
Install an in-store photo booth for a week. Get customers to take pictures of them wearing/interacting with your product a then share it on social media. Reward them with a discount or deal that will make it even more compelling to purchase the items.
Take your window-display game up a notch with interactive displays that update in real-time and allow your customers to contribute content of them showcasing your products.
Use motion sensitive mirrors to deliver inspiring video content as shoppers move past particular areas.
Touchscreen tables can be used to deliver interactive or personalised content to keep customers engaged.
Incorporate Facebook/Instagram likes into displays next to key products so people can easily see how popular different items are.
Empower employees to deliver excellence
What's the main difference between online and offline shopping? People.
Shopping in-store is a social activity that allows you to deliver a level of service that no e-retailer can offer. It’s the battle of experience vs convenience – if it’s experience they’re after, you have the advantage. But if a consumer has a bad interaction with a member of staff, they won’t visit you again – they have too many other options to settle for anything but the best. So how can you ensure your staff deliver excellence every time?
Make sure the right people are in the right place, every time.
Make sure staff know what's expected of them. They should be busy and look welcoming. Personal conversations between staff should be kept to a minimum – they’re there to serve customers and should always be alert to the environment around them. One of the most off-putting things in a shop for a customer is staff talking amongst themselves.
Positive customer experience starts with engaged employees, so use technology to involve them. Our retail analytics dashboards have been designed with simplicity in mind so that all of your employees can make use of the data. When staff members can see how the store is doing against targets in real-time, they can take impactful action. If they can see that conversion is 2% under target and they know there’s just an hour left of the day, they will be more motivated to get out on the shop-floor and help customers to encourage purchase.
Invest in employees
They’re your most expensive outlay but also your most valuable asset. Hiring the right staff is just half the battle. It’s your job to nurture them to improve their skill-sets and build loyalty within your business.
Latest reports show that retailers provide as little as 10 hours of training per member of staff per year, on average – that’s a shocking under-investment for the most crucial element of your business. Invest in store staff with ongoing training on business processes, sales techniques, new products and services, so they can deliver exceptional customer service every time.
Employ experts such as stylists and beauticians to add value to the shopping experience. If you’re offering more than your competitors, you’re more likely to win the business.
Acknowledge and reward staff who provide excellent customer service. A workforce that feels valued will do a better job than one that’s taken for granted.
Develop an employee retention and development strategy. Identify future management prospects and invest in them – they could be the future of your business.
With hundreds of businesses competing for your customers’ attention, you need to make sure you’re heard. You have two choices – compete on price or compete on differentiation. Many retailers feel like the only option is to discounting but with savvy marketing initiatives you can demonstrate how you’re different and build a following based on brand loyalty rather than price.
Online marketing is effective because it’s easy to test, analyse, and optimise to make sure you get the best ROI per marketing £ spent. Here are a few ways you can use digital channels to drive in-store sales.
Review your local SEO strategy and make sure it’s up to scratch. Online competitors can’t compete on a local search level, and yet surprisingly few retailers have a thorough strategy to ensure they appear in local Google searches. With more and more people using mobile search to find what they need nearby you could be massively missing out!
Get social – Facebook ads, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Tap into where people spend their downtime and become a part of it. Keep yourself in their field of vision.
Google Local Inventory Ads allow customers to check that the product they’re after is in stock at their local store. If they know it’s available they are much more likely to make the trip in.
Weather Ads (available for Adwords, Facebook and Twitter) allows advertisers to respond quickly to fluctuations in demand based on the weather. For example, on a sunny day you can trigger an ad with sunglasses, beachwear, and a glass of something cool and delicious.
Encourage your customers to share their positive experiences and purchases on social media to help create a buzz around your brand and convince their friends and family that you’re worth the journey.
Maya Angelou said it best: ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. Turn a casual bystander into a devoted fan by making them feel special. One-off events create experiences that people will never forget. Here are some ways this kind of marketing can work for different businesses.
Fashion – host a catwalk show and allow customers to try on products and receive samples.
Services – hold classes or workshops and demonstrate your products. Let people in on (some of) your secrets, and they’ll feel like part of your ‘gang’. If they feel like an insider, it will build loyalty and they are much more likely to talk about you with their friends.
Beauty – host free beauty master classes on topics that will appeal to your customers, for example, contouring or wedding makeup.
Department stores have the world at their feet when it comes to experiential marketing opportunities. From food and drink pop-ups to fitness classes – you name it, it’s probably possible.
Restaurants – wine pairing, cocktail making, taster menus. These are all great ways to bring customers in and make them feel part of your business. When it’s time to change the menu, send out a survey to find out what works and what doesn’t. Or organise a ‘meet the chef’ or master class cooking event to showcase your expertise.
Teaming up with a partner can bring huge mutual benefits. It’s all about extending your reach, and while it’s not as common in offline models, there are compelling reasons for doing it. Take time to find the right partner, come up with a mutually beneficial campaign and pitch. The right partnership should be a win-win for both parties. Fashion and health & beauty stores could team up to put on VIP pamper evenings, restaurants could host pop-ups in department stores, or a baby brand could partner with a sports store to offer wellness evenings for new mums. Customers want to be inspired and entertained, and a great partnership does all that while raising the profile of both brands. Here are a few ways you can maximise partnership opportunities.
Combine your CRM databases to cross-promote your events and promotions via email.
Work with influencers and brand ambassadors to host one-off events – offer a referral system that rewards brand ambassadors for driving traffic into the store.
Run competitions that partner brands promote in their stores, and return the favour at a later date.
Join forces with complementary brands to put together a mega prize – for example, a travel agent, a beauty brand, a shoe store and a fashion retailer could put together a travel package worth thousands. Cross-promote through all your channels – in order to enter, participants have to visit every store, for example. With an enticing enough prize you can get participants to do much more for you, so you get a greater reward.
Partner with a brand who has a similar social media following as you and cross-promote each other regularly, highlighting sales or events that you have in each store.
If you run a larger store, it could be worth looking to smaller stores as potential partners. Consumers love the more personalised experience they can get in a smaller store, hence boutique stores are on the rise – but by partnering with one you can capitalise on that. You could find a boutique store that’s making a name for itself but isn’t yet represented in your area and form a distribution agreement to be the first to supply its brand. Use social media to target ads at fans of that brand, and similar brands, who might otherwise decide to shop in smaller suppliers or online.
There's still room for good old-fashioned in-store marketing, but it’s easy to forget the basics when you’re focused on more innovative activities. Here are a few things you can do to entice customers into your store on a day-to-day basis.
Refresh your visual merchandising strategy to ensure it’s achieving the desired objectives. Pay attention to your window displays. Do they convey the intended message? Do they turn peoples heads as they walk past? You can run focus groups to gauge how people react to different designs, but the best way to assess the effectiveness of your visual merchandising is to analyse the impact it has on footfall, then use that intelligence to inform future campaigns. Measure footfall before and after using in-store analytics to get an accurate measure of how customers behave.
Get out and speak to customers on the street. Find out what it is that draws them into a shop, and what keeps them away. Pay someone to hand out flyers or give away freebies to let people know you’re there and ready to serve them.
Merchandising around key events – keeping up with current trends and events in the media shows that you know what's going on, and you care about it. Identify popular events throughout the year and come up with in-store campaigns that leverage that popularity.
Curbside extras – a sandwich board can be a fun but cost-effective way to welcome people into your shop. Write a witty message that makes them stop and think. You could also use your outside space to include something customers can use – for example, a bike shop might have bike racks outside.
Offer complimentary services – do your products require maintenance? Make sure your customers stay with you rather than go elsewhere by offering services for free (at least for an introductory period). You don’t want to lose money, but if you can do this it gives customers a sense of added value.
Freebies – give people a taste of your product. Food and drink are easy options, but whatever you sell there's always something you can offer as an incentive to bring customers in, such as key rings, badges, magnets, pens or accessories related to what you sell.
Referrals – keep your customers informed about in-store promotions and events, and offer them discounts or reward points (or perhaps the chance to be entered into a draw to win a prize) if they refer someone to your store.
Deliver leaflets to local houses and businesses that includes a voucher or offer that will make people keep the leaflet rather than throw it away. Don’t do the drop when there will be post on the mat – people might scoop everything up and dispose of what they think is junk mail without looking properly.
Advertise – online, billboards, local publications, etc. Being part of the local community is a good strategy. People love where they live and are proud of it. Make them proud of you too.
Analyse, optimise and repeat
It’s often thought that the main advantage for online retailers is access to data. They can test ideas out, analyse performance and optimise future activity, meaning they’re always improving. But offline retailers have the same opportunities. In-store analytics tools can tell you things about your customers that you’d never discover by analysing historical sales data, running focus groups or collating customer service survey data.
Choose an in-store analytics suite that’s easy to use. If it’s too complicated, your teams disengage and it falls into disuse. It’ll provide no value to your stores if it isn’t a breeze to use.
Look for measures that go beyond sales. To identify areas of opportunity, follow measures that demonstrate continuous improvements, for example, conversion rate, queue length, dwell time, promotion efficacy, and staff allocation and costs.
Once you have a system in place that your staff can engage with on a daily basis, you’ll notice the changes that impact the customer experience and increase customer footfall.