Recently Tawyna Amdor shared some valuable tips with Internet Retailer:                                                  

One key is to train store associates to get customers’ email addresses. A great way to start is by offering shoppers e-receipts.

There’s no doubt that physical store locations are one of the largest investments retailers incur. With the cost of rent or mortgage, insurance, technology, fixtures and inventory – not to mention staffing and marketing – it’s easy to see why.

With so much at stake, it’s not surprising that retailers were disappointed this past holiday season with the 8% decrease in in-store sales and 8.3% decrease in foot traffic. That being said, in-store sales still brought in over $500 billion compared to e-commerce’s $101.9 billion.

And it’s not just the holiday season that is a challenge. In August 2014, ShopperTrak, a Chicago based data firm that records store visits for retailers at more than 40,000 U.S. stores, reported that shopper visits had fallen 5% or more from a year earlier in every month, with the exception of one, for the past two years.

Even with the growth trend clearly favoring online sales, stores are still not only viable, they’re necessary. The good news is that it is possible for retailers to use digital channels to drive in-store traffic and sales year-round and to mimic the online experience in the store to attract even more customers.

Channels are Blurring

There was a time when e-commerce sites struggled to compete with stores. They couldn’t match the personal experience that brick-and-mortar stores had to offer, and shipping merchandise was slow and expensive. But those issues were soon resolved, as shoppers grew accustomed to waiting a few days for online purchases to arrive or to paying for expedited shipping, if necessary.

For retailers, sentiment continued to sweeten towards online shopping as the amount of customer data e-commerce sites were able to use to enhance the customer journey became unparalleled. Retailers simply were (and continue to be) able to know more about each online customer than most store associates could about in-store shoppers, and in turn, could provide accurate and personalized product recommendations. Plus, the convenience of being able to read customer reviews and order anything, anytime, anywhere was tough to beat. For a while, in fact, online shopping had the clear advantage, and stores worried as sites lured their shoppers away.

But these days channels are blurring, and distinctions between brick and mortar, e-commerce and mobile attributions are disappearing. To meet customer expectations, retailers must present all brand and product information in all available formats and channels to provide customers with options and to empower them to choose how they want to interact with the retailer. Retailers who do not do this risk limiting themselves to a smaller subset of shoppers and losing revenue.

Email and Mobile

Email and mobile marketing do not need to be reserved for driving online sales. They can also be powerful tools for driving in-store and mobile sales, not to mention effective tactics for converting single channel shoppers into multichannel customers, making them significantly more valuable to retailers.

The key is to properly educate and train store associates to consistently ask customers if they would like to sign up for email or mobile offers, and making sure associates are well-versed in the types of communications subscribers will receive. Today’s customers are savvy, and while open to providing information in return for an enhanced, personalized experience with brands or retailers they favor, they are concerned with how it will be used.

A great place to start in growing your email subscriber base with in-store customers is by offering e-receipts via email or text. E-receipts provide a convenience that customers appreciate, and are a great first step to blurring the lines between channels.

But e-receipts are only the beginning.  In-store sales can be treated similarly to online purchases by triggering post-purchase campaigns, including thank-you emails, product review requests, loyalty emails or even win-back campaigns. Online stores are always just an email click away from e-commerce subscribers, but email can also be used to keep your brand in front of brick-and-mortar customers and to give them a reason to make another visit.

To drive in-store traffic, send out email messages offering in-store-only deals. Include bar code coupons shoppers can print out or present on their phones at point of sale, or offer customers the option of buying merchandise online and picking it up in-store.

Again, ideally to optimize these tactics, retailers must make sure store associates are trained and prepared. Associates should not only be familiar with the emails and offers that customers are receiving, but also aware of how to properly pull merchandise that is purchased online and have it ready and waiting for customers to pick up, along with helpful suggestions for complementary products.

Many retailers also now offer shopping apps, making it easier for customers to shop from mobile devices. Some are even setting up iBeacons to send targeted offers and messages to  app users when they are in-store, or even more specifically, within a certain aisle or near a particular product. This level of real-time targeting benefits both the customer and retailer.

The future of stores

Stores are also finding ways to compete with the virtually limitless inventory that e-commerce sites display by offering customers the ability to order merchandise in-store for shipment directly to their homes. Associates armed with tablets can show customers product options that are not available in a particular store and can also pull up product reviews to help customers make purchase decisions.

To further enhance the in-store experience, imagine if associates could allow customers to access their online wish lists and shopping carts – perhaps from a designated lounge area replete with refreshments. Associates could pull merchandise while customers wait, and then offer additional product recommendations while merchandise is being considered or tried on.

Some forward-thinking retailers are already leveraging customer data in-store to offer a truly omnichannel, and customer-centric experience. Rebecca Minkoff, for example, recently debuted its first interactive store. Customers can begin their visit by ordering a drink via a touchscreen mirror and can select merchandise they would like to try on, which associates then deliver to their fitting rooms. Different sizes can conveniently be requested from a touchscreen on the mirror in the fitting room. In addition, customers can use the interactive mirror to scroll through related merchandise that pairs well with what they’re trying on and can request more items to be delivered to the fitting room as needed. All the while, the retailer is capturing a wealth of valuable data that can be used to further enhance the omnichannel shopping experience.

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