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How Traditional Retailers Can Thrive in an Online World

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With increasing store closures and e-commerce growth, there are a lot of unknowns about the future of brick and mortar retail. Although 80% of purchases are still expected to happen in-store by 2020, there’s growing uncertainty among retailers large and small about how to keep up with consumers in an increasingly digital shopping environment.

A new report from SweetIQ, “The Future of Local 2018,” highlights major trends and strategies for local businesses and multi-location retailers. Among them, it discusses what traditional stores can do to compete successfully with online retailers, many of which are now investing in offline storefronts. The report emphasized providing a “seamless experience” (online and offline) and keeping up with consumer’s changing shopping expectations.

The report argues employees are a critical piece of the in-store advantage: “consumers are looking for experiences, not just for services and products, and your people can provide that.” In-store talent can help give stores a competitive advantage because retail personnel typically better understand the client base from their direct interactions.

Retail employees are often undervalued compared with digital assets, data and technology.

Store staff can offer more personalized information, education and suggestions that move customers along the purchase journey. However, they must be well trained – a major caveat. With well-trained and friendly employees, brick and mortar stores can offer a memorable experience, increase customer loyalty and get consumers to come back into the store.

Another important to-do for traditional retailers is solidify a local presence across relevant digital channels, including directories, store locators and microsites. According to a Google study, 92% of consumers who used a mobile device to research a product or service made a purchase within a day, while 76% visited a related business within a day.

Yet there is no longer a standard path-to-purchase for consumers. They use multiple resources, online and off, to make buying decisions. Multi-location brands and smaller retailers alike must develop a comprehensive online presence across these many touchpoints. This can address the new customer journey, which is more like a “roundabout, where consumers are entering and exiting their journeys constantly and through many different entry points.”

Finding ways to be “different” than competitors should be another goal for brick and mortar. Although it’s impossible for smaller traditional retailers to compete with large store or e-commerce provider’s inventory, they can still attract online customers by using immediacy or urgency.

The main reason consumers prefer in-store shopping over online is because of the ability to interact with products.  Stocking and promoting certain items exclusively as in-store specials can help build an entirely different consumer experience around those products. Telling online consumers that particular products are available in stores will also help drive foot traffic offline.

“Customer expectations are evolving faster than retailers are innovating,” explains the report. Traditional retail is far from dead. However, they need to explore innovative tactics, both online and offline, that enhance the in-store customer experience rather than seek to replace it.

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