While every business is unique in its own right, many retailers currently face a set of common challenges. Regardless of your product, the ever-changing retail landscape has one goal on most shop owners' minds: boosting sales.
But in the face of an evolving industry, how can retailers coax more customers through their doors? Based on the current retail climate, eager entrepreneurs can implement a handful of clever solutions to turn common stumbling blocks into building blocks.
If you're a retailer who is ready to take advantage of these specific opportunities to revitalize your business, then let's get started.
Shore Up Foot Traffic
Maintaining a steady stream of foot traffic is a constant concern for many brick-and-mortar shops. And getting shoppers through the doors is no longer a simple question of store geography.
But here’s Big Data to the rescue: Some high-tech tracking tools can help entrepreneurs shore up flagging foot traffic and increase sales with a suite of in-store analytics. Retailers can keep customers roaming their aisles for longer using relevant metrics like:
- In-store dwell time;
- Areas of a store shoppers visit most; and
- Comparisons across store locations.
Entrepreneurs can employ tools like Aislelabs and Measurence to capture these metrics, then analyze shopper walking patterns to optimize store layouts and displays accordingly. Studying these analytics regularly can also help merchants discover trends and identify factors behind inevitable spikes and lulls in sales. And it’s far easier to improve marketing efforts, increase engagement, optimize staffing, and boost the overall customer experience when you have the behavioral data to back it up.
Differentiate From Online Marketplaces
Physical retailers are also hustling to differentiate themselves from online stores in the competition for consumers’ attention and dollars.
In this spirit, a few innovative shops have cultivated “immersive” retail experiences in their stores. Also referred to as experiential retail, storefronts often craft unique, memorable experiences within their shop to both lure in shoppers and evoke an emotional response and build brand awareness. Retailers entrench their customers in a branded experience in this way to deeply engage shoppers in a way ecommerce just can’t.
Photo credit: Gucci
One example is Gucci’s digital catalogue, which uses virtual reality so that shoppers can interact with their entire collection. Customers use Microsoft Kinect technology to engage with life-sized versions of models on a catwalk to get a 360-degree view of the clothing. And strategically placed iPads nearby allow captivated customers to control the experience and purchase items right from the tablet.
For enthusiastic entrepreneurs ready to take the leap into immersive retail, learn some tips and tricks for building your own immersive exhibit.
Stop Worrying About Showrooming
There’s been plenty of gloom and doom in the last few years about how ecommerce will eat into the profits of physical stores. “Showrooming,” or where shoppers test products in person at a storefront and then purchase online, is a buzzword that has partially fueled this fear for retailers.
Thankfully, this often-articulated anxiety hasn’t seen much traction with shoppers. Several studies have actually proven the opposite to be true (consumers do their homework online and then make purchases in store). A recent Nielson report showed that 60% of consumers surveyed preferred to browse online and then complete the transaction in store. In another Accenture study, 88% of shoppers browsed virtually and then bought in person.
However, if you find showrooming to be a growing concern for your store, there are some time-tested strategies to combat it, including:
- Discounting: Use promotional pricing to drive up in-store demand. That’s not to say that sales are the answer to every problem, but promotions and special pricing can be used tactically to pique consumer interest and lure them into your shop when they otherwise might pass you by.
- Point-of-purchase (POP) displays: Strategically place point-of-purchase displays to increase impulse purchases (like those bins full of goodies conveniently placed next to checkout lines).
- Loyalty programs: Loyalty programs are about more than those pesky points cards. Email marketing campaigns are a cost-effective way to reward loyal shoppers and incentivize them to make purchases in store through promotions, special discounts, and VIP information and sales.
Build a Loyal Customer Base
Retailers know that luring in new customers is far more expensive (up to five to 10 times more) than finding ways to keep old ones coming back for more.
One of the most common strategies to turn one-time shoppers into repeat buyers is to build a loyalty program for your store. Essentially, such programs incentivize your customers to keep purchasing your product or service with discounts, reward points, and/or free merchandise.
There are innumerable cornerstones around which to build a loyalty program. You can procure customer birthdates at the register during checkout and offer them special promotions or a small gift on their birthday. You can introduce loyalty cards, where customers collect a certain number of points for every transaction that they can later cash in for discounts or merchandise. Or you can establish a referral program that rewards current customers for sending new ones your way. All of these are time-tested strategies to boost retention rates.
Another effective strategy for building a loyal customer base is to adopt an omni-channel approach to engage customers both online and offline. Consistent communication with consumers across platforms, including web, social and mobile, in addition to your brick-and-mortar location, forges a stronger buyer-seller relationship.
Studies show that omni-channel engagement strategies significantly benefit retailers by offering consumers multiple entry points and a more integrated shopping experience. According to one study, retailers with solid omni-channel strategies boasted an 80% customer retention rate — and part of that success was attributed to regular training in customer care across this variety of channels.
So here’s the takeaway: Take the leap into an omni-channel strategy for your business. Then invest the time to ensure your staff is up-to-speed on omni-channel communications. Your bottom line will thank you later.
Manage Shopper Expectations
Having your store information at consumers’ fingertips (literally, if your ecommerce site is mobile friendly) means customers often know as much about your products as you do. This can create high shopper expectations that are difficult for retailers to meet.
Photo credit: PwC Total Retail Report
Instead of fretting, simply lean in to get a better understanding of what customers want. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ US Total Retail 2016 report shows that above all else, consumers value a simple checkout experience (46% of respondents identified this as the top factor that enhances their in-store shopping experience) and sales associates with deep knowledge of the products (the top factor for 41% of respondents).
While super-savvy shoppers can be a challenge for retailers, you can keep up with consumers by:
- Making the Sale From Anywhere: Since we know definitively that shoppers value a seamless checkout experience, place point-of-sale systems in strategic locations to get them through queues faster. Self-checkout lines are one way retailers have helped minimize wait times in queues. Or simply bring the register right to your customers with POS software for mobile devices.
- Finding the Right Staff. Yes, good help is hard to find, particularly in retail. But having staff with deep knowledge of your product and processes can quickly prove invaluable both to you and your customers. That’s why it’s integral to vet, hire and keep knowledgeable staff to answer consumer questions. Then take the time to train sales associates so they can demonstrate a wealth of knowledge about your products when they counsel customers either in store or online.
- Offer Online Product Info and Reviews. Make it as easy as possible for customers to do their homework about your merchandise. When building your ecommerce experience (and yes, you should absolutely have an ecommerce site), ensure that all your products have important information for buyers. That goes beyond just make and model numbers — include thorough descriptions rich with relevant keywords, and if possible, offer access to product reviews. Almost half (40%) of the PwC survey’s respondents said reading reviews, comments, and feedback on products deeply influenced their shopping behavior.
The Bottom Line
While the preceding list doesn’t include every major opportunity available to retailers, these are some of the most prominent that currently permeate the industry landscape regardless of the type shoes, widget, or service you sell.
What other opportunities do you see with your retail business? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
About The Author
Lindsey Peacock is a writer, editor, and American expat invading the Great White North. When she isn’t helping entrepreneurs build their businesses, you’ll find her at the nearest dog park with Charlie, her ginger husky pup. Follow her on Twitter.