In former times, convincing Americans that they needed a new product or service was fairly easy. Billboards, newspaper ads, radio and TV commercials and sponsorships did the trick. As soon as a business had enough cash flow, it bought advertising because that's what brought in more customers.
Fast forward a couple of generations. The newspaper is extinct. People are immune to the wiles of mass media advertising, and it’s the end of a lengthy transition in which consumers' shopping habits changed drastically, and goods and services purveyors struggled to catch up.
The reason for the upheaval was a little innovation people called "the internet."
For Americans and even more so the British, the activity of shopping is about information. Getting answers is what the internet is exquisitely suited for. Buying a widget?
- Which widget is quality? I’ll consider neither the cheapest nor the most expensive one.
- Who has the best selection of widgets?
- What price ranges should I be aware of?
- Who else has bought a widget like the one I want and what did they think of it?
- Once I decide, how can I get my new widget quickly, cheaply, conveniently?
Pre-internet, a consumer had to clamber aboard his primary means of transportation, visit a store in person, talk to a salesperson, make the purchase and transport the item back home. Sometimes the telephone was used to make comparisons and narrow down the possibilities, and a subscription to Consumer Reports met the needs of the hard core bargain-hounds.
The internet has introduced a completely new way to buy and sell using search engine optimization. Now, the "mall" concept of positioning a large number of stores close together has transmuted into a virtual space where every store on earth with a website can present its wares. With a few exceptions like groceries or gasoline, the heyday of traveling from store to store, comparing, gathering information, buying and lugging the items home is rapidly becoming a distant memory.
Consumers long ago learned how to shop online. Searching for the right product? Just ask Google to compare prices on widgets in your price range, and voila! Thousands of possible options. Comparison? Products, prices, means of exchange, variations, used or new, images, demonstrations… from a living room sofa, a shopper can compare products for hours. Then proceed directly to the product reviews. The crafty consumer has figured out how to analyze the information in public reviews, synthesizing it with other sources to get a reliable picture of what they are buying.
Many prognosticators say that the reign of brick and mortar (BAM) retail is at an end. With the decline of classic BAM stores like J.C. Penney, Circuit City, Sears / Kmart and yes, even Wal-Mart, it's difficult to argue with that assessment. No one can argue that internet commerce has had an impact on traditional retail and service sales approaches.
Do you see it as a threat or an opportunity?
Do shoppers bring their phones into your store with them? Of course they do. Accept this as the new reality- people WILL comparison shop from inside your store. The term "showrooming" refers to shoppers who peruse the items in a store (possibly taking pictures), try the item out for fit, design, material, etc. Then through the information gathering power of the internet, they end up buying the item from Amazon for a lower price and free shipping.
Selecting one product from among many is complicated. Retailers used to be able to capitalize on the impulse, one-sale-today-only urgency, emotion, and personal persuasion power of a salesperson to seal the deal. The shopper was physically there in the store, having made the effort to travel there, trusting in the integrity of your business to set a fair price. And that still happens a lot, but the ground is shifting. We are becoming very comfortable with basing our decisions on the sheer tonnage of information as we can get on our screens.
An odd paradox in the era of instant gratification is the idea that you can get a fair deal on a product, but you have to wait a few days to get it. We can shop and complete a sale in a matter of seconds, but the buyer's gratification is definitely delayed. On the plus side, the item is delivered to your front door (it is fun to get a package in the mail, after all), and online businesses are always working on this as a drawback to their model. See the news about drone delivery to understand how badly online retailers want to gain ground on the BAM retailer’s big advantage by shortening the gap between purchase and delivery.
What's a retailer to do?
8 thoughts about playing this new game
- Make sure your website and store information are fully integrated. Don't fail the customer who searches your store online, locates the item, needs it today, visits your store to complete the purchase aaaaand… it's discontinued or not in stock, and you never even knew you had a serious lead.
- Make your store an extension of your website. If your store looks, feels and operates like your branded website, you can make both work together. Branding, atmosphere, company culture, tie-ins and more can jigsaw together to make a more complete experience.
- Play up the disadvantage of the Big Wait that accompanies an online order. Match the convenience of free shipping by promising same or next-day delivery from the store, a pretty package they can carry with them. Remind them that the same purchase online could cost the same, or even more with shipping BUT they can get it TODAY from you!
- Invest in your staff. A pleasant experience with a knowledgeable associate means an emotional connection to your business. Do what you can to find and retain relational salespeople- it's one thing that customers can't get online: a pleasant personal experience.
- Loyalty programs like one free with the purchase of five redeemed in-store only. Or use a punch card or other physical process to get more store traffic and repeat customers
- Returns policy. The downside of free shipping from an online retailer is the hassle of returning something. Liberalize your returns policy and you capitalize on something that's a definite weakness for non-BAM stores.
- Showrooming can work backward as well. Plenty of people shop online to compare features, price, quality and the like, then head to the store to acquire the item! We recently bought a bicycle this way and it worked great- we did a lot of research online, but completed the purchase at a bike store. Is there a way to take advantage of that? Clearinghouse or comparison shopping might be to your advantage.
- Offer unique or exclusive products. This one's a little tricky because you eliminate a lot of sales that might happen online, but if the item is only available in the store, buyers have no choice. And remember… shoppers like choice.
You service providers out there worry about some different issues than retail, especially if you are a B2B operation. You think about your competitors, your reputation, how to get better word-of-mouth and accessibility to current and future customers.
The internet has affected your bottom line too! How are you leveraging it as a marketing tool?
Customer reviews have moved center stage in your marketing efforts. Getting customers to review your business can be difficult- it seems like the only ones interested in reviewing are the ones who like to complain.
Incentivize reviews. Give people a free cup of coffee, or movie ticket to fill out a three-sentence blurb with permission to post on various review sites. Steer them toward the most visible and effective places like Google Maps. After using Google to search for and find you, searchers will visit your website, so be sure to include even more reviews on your home page.
Yelp has established itself as a mostly reliable place for unsolicited reviews. Definitely direct your reviewers there. Be prepared for negative reviews by monitoring Yelp closely and responding to complaints when appropriate.
Social Media is the new Word of Mouth. Join in conversations about your business, respond to complaints, show your human side. Use Facebook and Twitter to keep your story going with regular posts and tweets, with photos and offers.
Email your clients to ask for reviews, offer a newsletter, or an FAQ forum, or even training and education on your services. Include calls-to-action in your emails to encourage some kind of response.
Lists like Angie's like shouldn't be neglected either. All these strategies together can work as a virtual, never-sleeping marketing team to keep you a step ahead.
Take a look at your customer service as a form of marketing. Automate forms, order history, account information, educational or training material and whatever makes sense to you and your customers. Chat windows are a great way to add a personal touch for people who are comfortable interacting through a keyboard, and it removes the personal pressure a live salesperson might add to a transaction. The customer needs to feel comfortable and in control as much as possible!
Your bottom line can’t afford to ignore the trend lines. United Webworks Internet Marketing Savannah, GA is busy watching all the indicators and they reveal a steadily growing move toward a robust combination of the physical storefront and online presence / commerce. Get a head start on your plan for the next ten years by asking the experts! Whip out that smartphone and call us: 912-231-0016, or click United WebWorks Internet Marketing Savannah GA