How Brick & Mortar Retailers Can Survive in a Digital World




It’s an uphill battle, but there a few ways brick and mortar retailers can thrive in a world where most customers prefer online shopping. Here’s how.

Thinking about the future can be scary when you’re unsure about your place in it. It seems things are getting worse for the retail industry as big staple stores like Macy’s, Sears, and even JC Penney are closing more stores every day.

Many brick and mortar retailers have incorporated e-commerce into their business model, and it’s tough to say whether or not traditional retail locations will ever become as prevalent as they once were. Shopping malls may become a thing of the past in a world where more people than ever are shopping online.

Consider Amazon — one of the largest e-commerce retailers in the world. Amazon’s approach to e-commerce has always been to provide a simplified shopping experience at low prices and fast shipping. Mastering the online checkout experience gave them the bandwidth to expand and become not only a massive e-commerce retailer, but also a provider of cloud services, streaming entertainment, and becoming a respected tech manufacturer.

How can traditional retailers compete with that? It’s an uphill battle, but there a few ways brick and mortar retailers can thrive in a world where most customers prefer online shopping.

Understanding Your Clientele

It’s time to admit that retail businesses are providing a service to their customers. The best thing a retail owner can do to elevate their business is to have an incredibly focused strategy when appealing to their ideal clientele.

If you haven’t already or it’s been several years since doing so, now is the time to refresh the idea of your perfect customer. In the marketing world, this is what’s known as creating a buyer’s persona.

Create a fictional person who you think would love the products and services found at your store. Try to define aspects of this person down to the most minute detail. For example, perhaps you own a boutique coffee shop located in the heart of an urban financial district. Because of the quality and higher prices of coffee served, your ideal buyer persona may look like this:

  • Male

  • Late 20’s — Early 30’s

  • Has a Bachelors or Masters degree

  • Likes high-end cuisine

  • Reads a lot

  • Income: $45K — $100K+

  • Prefers indie music

  • Drives eco-friendly car

  • Prefers organic food and fair-trade policies

 Defining all these little details go a long ways towards understanding them and then ultimately getting them to be a returning customer. You can have multiple personas, but always keep at least one in mind when thinking about acquiring and retaining customers.


Creating a Unique, Engaging Experience

 Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that millennials make up the largest segment of shoppers and they will continue to be the largest for many years. The most important thing you can learn from this generation is their current shopping behaviors since they will become the standard over the next few decades.

You may have heard this elsewhere, but millennials crave experiences rather than material goods. Really take that to heart because this is probably why they would rather shop from the comfort of their own home with a few clicks. Think about the effort required to get in the car, drive to the mall, search endlessly for what they’re looking for and potentially settle for something they didn’t want originally.

This is where retail owners who understand their customers have the edge over online and other big box retailers. If you can foster an experience where customers are engaged from beginning to end of their visit, you can make your store future-proof.

 Creating a welcoming environment

If there’s one thing Facebook does well at it’s keeping users engaged on their platform for as long as possible. The Facebook Newsfeed prefers certain content for their users provided it keeps them engaged and there for as long as possible. The key to Facebook’s success is user engagement, and the same can be true for your store as well.

Because your business has a physical location, the physical appearance of your interior is one of the first things customers look at. If it’s been awhile or you can’t remember when the interior was revisited, it’s time to get creative.

If you don’t have strict branding guidelines for colors, consider using warm, inviting colors like red or orange. For extra credit, try researching the psychology behind colors and see which ones are better for creating the atmosphere you want.

You also want your store to feel comfortable and this can be achieved with the right light fixtures and furniture. Lighting will have an initial impact on your customers, but don’t go overboard. Too much or too little ambient light can drive folks away. For a combination of comfort, utility, and pleasing aesthetics, there are tons of options if you’re in need of mid-century modern furniture for your retail store.

Personalizing the experience

Making the shopping experience stand out in your customer’s mind will be why they come back. Part of that means giving your customers the attention they need to feel like they are being tended to.

One way to do this is to offer a discount on a future purchase if they answer a satisfaction survey. Some customers want to be waited on hand and foot, while others prefer to shop in solitude. Generally, it’s a good idea to make sure all customers are greeted upon entering the store, but not all of them want numerous touch points to see if they need help. A survey can help you understand what customers prefer, but it can also be a good learning experience for the sales staff on how they can delight more effectively.

It’s also pretty common to have little perks to reward customers when they come into your store. This can be in the form of discounts, but maybe something along the lines of free cups of espresso while shopping might be a nice little treat. For example, if you order coffee in a Starbucks drive-thru and they notice you have a dog in the backseat, they will likely offer you a “puppocino” — a small swirl of whipped cream in a cup, at no extra cost for your furry companion.

Investing In Your Staff

Regardless of the future of brick and mortar retail, the truth is that these businesses live and die by the quality of service provided by their employees.

In a recent survey conducted by TimeTrade, 47% of respondents claimed that prompt service was the most important factor in a positive shopping experience. Just consider how different a shopping experience on a mobile device looks in comparison to one in a retail store. Most often online, customers rarely have to interact with sales or customer service staff unless there is an issue with a previous order.

Because shopping in a brick and mortar store requires human interaction, the quality of this social exchange is crucial if there’s any hope of standing apart from online shopping.

Reevaluate compensation, motivation

Retail workers are hard working individuals who often have multiple jobs to support themselves. With more and more retailers closing their doors, many of these workers are finding themselves without a job and few alternatives.

For your store to thrive in this digital landscape, making sure your staff feels trusted and valued sets them up to do their jobs well and bring customers back.

Looking at their wages is one way of finding motivation since these workers are paid relatively low hourly-rates. In cases where paying them more does not make sense, you can think of alternative ways to compensate them. Through contests and other incentive programs, you can find something which can work for you and your staff to motivate them appropriately.

If there’s one idea you can borrow from larger companies it’s having special days or events specifically to honor or acknowledge the work of your staff. It would be more than ideal to make your staff feel like a family, but even just acknowledging their dedication can go an incredibly long way to strengthening your workforce.


There are certain things that will never go away even as technology becomes more integrated with our daily lives. Once you’ve accepted that you will be at a disadvantage when trying to keep up with online retailers, you must strengthen everything that online experiences can’t give your customers and do it better.


Jonathan Bentz

I help companies grow by creating leads, sales, and traffic through SEO and a decade-plus of experience in the digital marketing field.

The game has changed dramatically over that time – but my success has remained consistent. Currently, I serve as a Digital Marketing Manager for Direct Online Marketing, a Premier Google Partner that provides PPC, SEO, social ads, retargeting, and analytics services to clients around the globe.

During my career, I have managed marketing campaigns in agency, corporate, and startup environments with trailblazing results at each stop. Highlights include:

– 2000% traffic growth and a $1M annual sales pipeline from SEO for a top 500 tech firm.
– Double-digit % traffic and leads growth for over 40 clients as employee no. 4 at a startup Internet marketing company.
– Subscriber engagement through email marketing nearly 2x industry averages for a AAA Four-Diamond resort.

If you think your business can generate more of what it needs from the digital channel, I’m ready to help you exceed your expectations. Let’s connect!


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