The piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on October 1, 2017
With the rise of online retailers many observers had written the obit of physical stores. However, it’s clear that they jumped the gun. Physical stores keep popping up and even online retailers—like Amazon—are dabbling with real-world outlets to maintain their relevance. In India, too, we are seeing online players, such as Pepperfry and Firstcry to name a few, opening brick-and-mortar stores. So, don’t write off physical stores. They are here to stay. Here are the top six reasons for this.
1. Companies need to maintain multiple touchpoints with customers
Customers want to make a purchase at their convenience from the context they like. Hence retailers have to provide customers the flexibility to shop the way they want from wherever they want. They want customers to have an option to shop across channels spanning mobile, laptops, tablets, desktop, stores, phone etc. According to the Aberdeen Research group, companies with strong “omnichannel” strategies retained 89% of their customers, compared with 33% for businesses that were weaker on this front.
Having an omnichannel presence is no longer a matter of choice, but a must for business success.
Research done by Emma Sopadjiva, Utpal Dholakia ad Beth Benjamin found that omnichannel customers spent 4% more on every shopping occasion in the store and 10% more online than single-channel customers. Customers who used multiple channels spent 9% more in the stores than those who used single channel. The researchers noted, “Within six months after an omnichannel shopping experience, these customers had logged 23% more repeat shopping trips to the retailer’s stores and were more likely to recommend the brand to family and friends than those who used a single channel.”
Clearly then, having an omnichannel presence is no longer a matter of choice, but a must for business success.
2. Touch-and-feel will never be redundant
Customers want to touch and feel a product, and for that a physical store is the best bet. Before buying, people want to try on clothes, browse through a book, see the picture quality of a TV. They also want their questions to be answered.
However, this often works in conjunction with an online experience. For example, I often browse through books in a store and then order them online later. Flipping through a book myself helps me better gauge if it’s the right choice for me since customer reviews can sometimes be misleading. An ideal experience would be that the online store provides a personalised recommendation of books for me and then I go to the physical store to browse through them. When I am in the store, the online store should nudge me with various options. After which I can order the books through the app and they get delivered at home.
3. To differentiate and enhance brand engagement
In the crowded online retail space it’s very difficult to differentiate. Today there are so many stores which are vying for customers’ attention and they all depend excessively on Google. The company that spends more gets a better position on a Google search. However, stores can be used for creative marketing activities to improve customer engagement. Stores can even use the help of digital tools such as iBeacon Scavenger Hunt, In-Store Photo Booth & Social Sharing, Augmented Reality etc.
4. Customers need instant gratification
Customers often prefer instant gratification and have what they’ve bought with them right away. They are often not willing to wait for a couple of days for the product to arrive. As a matter of fact, a Retail Dive consumer survey found that 49% of consumers say they choose stores over the web because they want “to take items home immediately.”
A study found that 70% of millennials like brick-and-mortar stores better than virtual ones.
We should not forget the last-mile delivery issues which online retailers still face because of which products take longer to arrive than is acceptable to consumers. It will be a while before online retailers are able to replicate and provide the instant gratification that customers are seeking.
5. Customer behaviour is not easy to change
A recent study found that 85% of consumers prefer a physical store to buying online. A major reason is trust—they want to see and try what they are buying even if they use online channels to zero in on the product they like. What shoppers also like is assistance provided by service staff on the products that they are buying. The other issue that leads to a preference for physical stores is the willingness, or lack thereof, to share personal data. A survey done by Retail Dive found that 57% of American consumers do not find it comfortable to share their personal data. Also, if there are problems, a product can be returned instantly to the store rather than the consumer having to jump through hoops as often happens with an online purchase. These ingrained attitudes and behaviours serve as deterrents to adoption of online shopping.
6. Millennials want to spend time in stores
While millennials do spend a lot of time online, they surprisingly tend to prefer physical stores when it comes to shopping. A study found that 70% of millennials like brick-and-mortar stores better than virtual ones. This indicates that physical stores are going to critical in order to build a loyal customer base among millennials
Clearly, online and physical stores are here to co-exist together. Of course, the stores have to become “smarter.” As physical stores go digital it’s time to welcome click-and-mortar shops, click-and-collect stores etc. Regardless, if someone tells you that physical stores are going to vanish, don’t believe them.