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How to combine a bricks-and-mortar store with e-commerce

Start slowly to perfect the details and then expand using affordable technology

Read time: 4 minutes

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E-commerce is growing fast in Canada and around the world, but predictions of a slow-death for bricks-and-mortar retailing have not come to pass.

Internet-based sales from all retailers rose 31% to $15.7 billion in 2017, according to Statistics Canada. However, retail e-commerce sales still represented just 2.6% of total retail sales in the country.

That means physical stores aren’t going anywhere. In fact, e-commerce giants are investing in bricks and mortar, as was most prominently demonstrated by Amazon’s 2017 deal to acquire the Whole Foods grocery chain for US$13.4 billion.

But it would be a mistake for retailers to become complacent. The Internet has sparked a revolution in the way people shop, and store owners have to offer customers the experience they expect or risk being left behind.

So, how can a smaller retailers combine a bricks-and-mortar store and with e-commerce? BDC’s Martin Wiedenhoff, Director, Revenue, Growth and Expansion, offers these tips.

Use the 20/80 rule

There’s a surprising amount of complexity when you’re trying to integrate e-commerce and a physical store. That’s why Wiedenhoff recommends you use the 20/80 rule. Offer only your top 20% best-selling products on your website to begin. A modest start will let you get the details right from technology to inventory to shipping and cross-channel marketing. You can also test merchandise on platforms such as Amazon and eBay to see what sells online and at what price point.

“You don’t run a marathon immediately. You do a 2k first,” Wiedenhoff says. “Keep it simple. Once, you have it working well, you can add complexity.”

Aim for a unified customer experience

By now you’ve probably heard about omnichannel marketing. The idea is to speak to customers with one voice, whether in-store, on your website, on social media or through traditional advertising. It’s not easy, but is very powerful when you get it right.

Start with developing a deep understanding of your target customers’ needs and desires. From there, you can work on consistent branding, messaging and service standards across your digital and physical properties and making sure your marketing is aligned. The final piece of the puzzle is to keep your employees up to speed on how you want them to approach customers, collect emails and promote your cross-platform marketing campaigns.

Think mobile first

Customers are constantly checking you out on the Internet. And increasingly they’re doing it with their smartphones. They’re also using their phones in-store to comparison shop and read product reviews. So, you have to make sure you’re website not only looks great, but is also fully mobile responsive.

Work on your in-store experience

Customers still like to visit stores to touch the merchandise, try it and get help from knowledgeable staff. You can use these desires to your advantage by having your sales staff accompany customers through your store. Besides offering advice, they can use a smartphone or a tablet to show inventory you have on your e-commerce site. Then, they can make the transaction right there—taking an order for either a product on the shelf or from your site.

Research indicates consumers crave that kind of personalized service and it can be a major source of growth for your company. As well, hosting special events and offering fun stuff to do at your store will help make it a regular customer destination.

Get onboard with webrooming

You probably know all about showrooming—the phenomenon of customers coming into your store and checking out merchandise and prices and then buying online, often from a competitor.

But you may not be as familiar with webrooming. This buzzword refers to the trend of customers examining your merchandise online and then going into your bricks-and-mortar location to make the purchase.

Increasingly retailers are integrating apps into their website to encourage webrooming. They allow customers to examine and test merchandise, and then either make a purchase online or come into the store.

“This technology is available to smaller companies,” Wiedenhoff says. “But they don’t use it because they think it’s too expensive.”

Explore in-store pickup but be careful

On the surface, allowing your customers to pick up orders in-store is an attractive idea. Once they come in, you have the chance to sell them other merchandise. But you might also be letting yourself in for a lot of headaches. Just ask yourself what happens when your customers don’t show up to pick up their parcels. “Each time you touch a box it costs money,” Wiedenhoff says. “The logistics of this can be tough.”

He says in-store pickup works best when the bulk of your customers live close to your store—like in the same neighbourhood—rather than spread across a large area. If they live nearby, pick-up becomes easier for them, which makes it easier for you.

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