Transforming The Customer Experience

Can Your Brick and Mortar Compete Against Online Stores?

Posted Sep 2, 2014, 11:01:00 AM

Not that long ago, there was no question that a customer would walk into a retail location to fill their every need. Mom and Pop stores gave way to big box stores, but they were still stores - that is, they were brick and mortar locations staffed by employees and maintaining a certain amount of inventory available for instant purchase. Customers came and went and told their friends about sales, driving even more business to the shop.

Without warning, online retailers came on the scene like a hurricane, sweeping up a hefty share of the retail market and giving customers an almost unlimited selection from the comfort of their homes. Brick and mortar locations trembled with fear, certain their days were numbered - but that’s about as far from the truth as these business owners could get.

It may seem like an impossible task to compete with the eCommerce set, but there are several ways you can turn a mere shopping trip into an unforgettable experience. By giving your customers an in-person sensory experience they could never find in the cold glow of their computers, you’ll have them coming back again and again.

Retail Sales Versus eCommerce

There’s no doubt that eCommerce is hot; according to the United States Census Bureau, eCommerce is still growing at an incredible rate. Year over year data from the second quarter of 2014 indicates that eCommerce sales saw a 15.7 percent growth - retail as a whole only saw a 4.4 percent growth during that same period. Still, eCommerce only represents 6.4 percent of the retail market, so the battle is far from won.

Even though your brick and mortar store is still competitive today, with the kind of growth eCommerce is seeing, it’s going to take a lot more to stay that way than it ever has in the past. Instead of just selling objects and hoping your customers come back for more, you’ve got to create a shopping experience that no website could ever hope to duplicate. By incorporating all your customers’ senses, your brick and mortar shop will be more than just a store - it’ll become a destination.

Transforming Your Retail Shop Into a Sensory Experience

Customers who opt to shop in brick and mortar stores are sending signals that you’d benefit from tuning in to. They’re tired, they’re exhausted, they may be so sick of looking at computers that the last thing they want is to order their new sheets through - they need an escape from the daily grind. Your brick and mortar should focus on this fact and provide a comforting, relaxing place where customers can shed their stress, even if only for a little while.

There are several ways to do this, but it all boils down to blocking uncomfortable stimuli and replacing it with a complete environment that’s fun or relaxing. There are lots of ways to do this, based on your brand image, but you should make sure you’ve got these bases covered:

  • Security. Although it’s not really one of the basic senses, we all get nervous or experience moments of doubt when we’re in an unfamiliar place. From dirty bathrooms to difficult-to-locate employees, your store influences how a customer feels about it from the moment they walk in the door. Keep everything spotless and make sure your employees are always helpful - bringing in a personal shopper isn’t a bad idea, either.
  • Sight. As humans, our eyes are among our most important sensory organs. We learn a lot about our world from watching others - and you can teach your customers anything you need them to learn with the help of digital signage. Whether you want to demo a product without risking a customer hurting themselves or want to avoid having to pay a very bored employee to do the same thing all day, digital signage can show a customer how a popular item works. These displays can also be used as interactive maps or to simply keep customers entertained as they wait in long lines.
  • Sound. It’s amazing how much we don’t notice the sounds in our life until they’re incongruent with our surroundings. In a retail setting, sound is important to creating an atmosphere and can even influence how quickly or slowly a customer shops. Contracting with an in-store music service gives you amazing control over the sounds in your business in a way that radio never could.
  • Smell. Believe it or not, our strongest memory associations often center around the smell of a thing. Smell evokes strong emotional responses, even if we don’t notice it at the time, which is why your brick and mortar location can’t risk smelling like whatever random stench wafted in last night. Control your environment, and your customer’s response to it, by bringing in the right scent using high quality professional equipment.

Even though eCommerce feels like an inevitable shopping future, offers an incredible array of products that you could never hope to amass under one roof and allows purchases from anywhere, your brick and mortar store has something those online guys will never have: a physical location. By enhancing the sensory experiences in your store, you’ll find that customers pop by just to look around when they’re stressed, bored or need to unplug from technology. When your retail location doubles as a mini vacation from the world, you’ll never have to worry about losing out to online retailers.