8 Important Lessons Brick-and-Mortar Merchants Can Pick Up from Ecommerce

Some brick-and-mortar merchants see ecommerce as the force that’s grabbing market share and taking customers away from offline stores. We don’t think this is the case. The way we see it, physical and digital retail aren’t rivals — they’re allies.

Research has shown that online retail can help drive in-store traffic, and many retailers can attest to this. Lisa Besseling, the owner of Stoney Lake Furniture, told us that having an ecommerce site helps drive interest for her offline store.

“Even if people don’t pull the trigger and make the purchase on your site, your online presence still generates interest,” says Besseling. “I’ve had people call me and say, ‘I saw this product on the website. I’m not ordering it right now, but I’d like to learn more.’ So customers are asking more questions — and I think whether or not the sale happens online, it still helps generate sales overall.”

If you really think about it, ecommerce can be a boon for your brick-and-mortar stores. That’s why if you’re not selling online yet, you could be missing out on revenue possibilities.

Beyond sales, you’re also missing out on learning opportunities. That fact is, brick-and-mortar stores can learn a thing — or eight — from ecommerce.

In this post, we’ll look at some of the top lessons you can pick up from online retailers. Check them out and see how you can apply them to your business.

Use data analytics and make more profitable decisions

For years, web analytics has been something that only e-tailers could take advantage of. They’d track shoppers on their site and get intel on traffic, timing, bounce rates, etc. Merchants could then use that data to enhance the user experience, test out layouts and calls to action, and more.

Fast forward to the present. These analytics tools are no longer reserved for ecommerce sites. Today, brick-and-mortar retailers can get their hands on data that can help improve their stores.

In the same way that e-tailers can track sales and user behavior to figure out the best ways to convert customers, you too can now gather insights into valuable shopper habits. 

In-store analytics tools such as people counters, sensors, and mobile foot traffic solutions enable you to get data on the number of people in your location, your store’s conversion rate, dwell time, as well as the most and least visited parts of your shop.

Not too keen on using fancy in-store tools? Turn to your point-of-sale system instead. Most POS and retail management solutions have data and reporting capabilities that can monitor sales, inventory, and more. Use those reports to get the insights you need.

What exactly should you track? One important metric is your conversion rate. As Alexander Reichmann, CEO of  iTestCash.com says, “one of the most valuable lessons that offline stores can take from ecommerce websites is to fine-tune your conversion rates.”

“Which products are people buying? Does moving your store items around increases sales? Is there any inventory your store could do better off without? These are important questions that most brick and mortar stores can potentially look into.”

He continues, “as an online store owner, I constantly track visitors to my business site and fine tune as needed to help our conversions.”

Your cost-per-acquisition (CPA) is another important number. Many ecommerce and subscription-based businesses can tell you their CPA at the drop of a hat, but many brick-and-mortar retailers don’t track this — which is a big mistake. Knowing your CPA can help you maximize your sales and marketing efforts so you can be more profitable.

“There is always a cost per acquisition for customers, whether it is advertising costs or time costs in optimizing a website. Brick and mortar stores have similar customer acquisition costs — flyers, newspaper ads, radio/television ads, the cost of signage or even the cost of a premium store location,” says Dave Hermansen CEO at StoreCoach.com.

“We want to maximize our profit per sale to get the most for our acquisition buck. In ecommerce, we do that by bundling products with accessories or by reminding customers of accessories that go with the products they have added to their online shopping cart,” he adds.

“Retail stores can do the same thing, putting together packages of products (e.g. a television, HDMI cable and soundbar package deal).”

What other metrics should you track?
Need more information on how you can use data analytics in your retail business? Download Vend’s Retail KPIs guide, a resource that gives you a deep look at the metrics you should be tracking in your business.

Download the guide and you will:

  • Learn which metrics can help you make smarter forecasts and decisions
  • Discover the formulas that’ll help you identify your KPIs so you can start measuring your way to the top
  • Wise up on the metrics that you need to track, and know exactly when and how to measure them

Personalize the customer experience to connect better with shoppers

Aside from giving you the intel to improve your store, data tools can also help you personalize each shopper’s experience.

Our online friends have been doing it for years. E-tailers know when someone is a returning visitor or a new customer. They’re aware of what products they purchased in the past, as well as which items would interest them. E-tailers could then use all that information to serve up customized recommendations and offers.

Fortunately, offline retailers can do this as well. Use a robust customer management software that lets you collect customer information, track purchase histories, and reward loyal shoppers.

One other way to personalize in-store experiences is through beacons. These nifty devices can “talk” to your customers’ smartphones so you can send tailored messages based on their previous behavior and location in your shop.

For instance, if someone is a returning customer, your store’s beacons could greet them with a “Welcome back!” message. Or, when they’re browsing a particular department, you can send them tailored notifications on the offers you have for relevant products.

Case in point: Tarrytown Pharmacy. This small pharmacy in Austin, TX partnered up with iBeacon solutions provider Shelfbucks to test out the technology in its store. Users can download the Shelfbucks app, opt-in for the service, and they’ll receive tailored offers depending on what aisle they’re in. That way, if the shopper is browsing, say, the vitamins aisle, they might receive a special offer for multivitamins or supplements.

Find clever ways to upsell and cross-sell to boost your profits

Many ecommerce stores have mastered the art of upselling and cross-selling.

As an example, Josh Brown over at Fieldboom, mentions Amazon.com. “When looking at a particular product, they will recommend other products that complement what a customer is looking at.”

Josh says brick-and-mortar stores can implement a similar strategy.

“One method is to get a potential customer talking to a sales person on the floor. However, instead of having an employee go up to a potential customer and seeing if they need help (which can be annoying), it’s important to find a way to get the customer to willingly go to an employee.”

“A way to implement this would be utilizing a cloud-based POS system to allow employees to process a sale anywhere in the store.”

According to Josh, this not only improves the shopper experiences but it’s also “a potential opportunity for an employee to engage with the customer and offer a personalized upsell and/or cross-sell.”

Further reading
Want to learn more about how you can smoothly recommend products to in-store shoppers? Check out this detailed guide on suggestive selling in retail.

Display ratings and reviews to leverage social proof

Ratings and reviews are a staple on ecommerce sites. They’re proven to drive sales, build credibility, and eliminate doubt that shoppers may have. Most important, they help customers make more informed decisions. This is likely why 61% of people rely on user reviews for product information or research.

The great news is, brick-and-mortar stores can also take advantage of ratings and reviews by incorporating them into their offline marketing collateral. Retail TouchPoints provides some excellent examples of offline retailers putting this into action. According to the site, Sephora “displays in-store digital signage with ratings and pullout quotes from online discussions about beauty products.”

Another great example comes from Amazon, which incorporates ratings and reviews in its physical location. The retailer has a “Highly Rated” section in-store where it showcases top-rated books alongside real reviews from Amazon users.

Be proactive about collecting reviews from offline shoppers

Online stores do a great job at getting people to review their products. Many ecommerce sites send out automated emails to encourage users to leave reviews. Why not do the same at your offline retail stores?

Take a cue from gemstone retailer Moriarty’s Gem Art.

“The biggest thing we do now that has greatly improved the foot traffic of our company is using reviews and social visibility, says Jeff Moriarty, the business’ marketing manager.

“Whenever someone purchases an item in store from us, we get their email address as well, and about 7 days later we email them asking them to review their experience on sites such as Google, Yelp, Facebook, and others. We also give them all our social information.”

“This has lead to a ton more reviews and more of our jewelry being shared online in our town and over the entire country. It’s so easy to do now that it is automated. It’s a no-brainer for retail stores.”

Learn the art of following up and get people to come back

Do you proactively reach out and follow-up with your customers? If not, you could be missing out on traffic and sales.

“I believe that brick-and-mortar stores can learn the art of follow-up from online retailers. Online stores must focus on not just getting customers in the door but getting those eyeballs back,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com

“Online stores work hard to retain those eyes with retargeting, follow-up marketing, cookie crumbs, etc. They want to keep in front of those customers with ads and messaging so that when they are ready to purchase, the consumer remembers the online retailer.”

So how can you apply the art of following up with your offline customers? Deborah offers some practical tactics:

“Talk with customers, get them to fill out a sign-in book to win a prize, engage with customers beyond just a quick hello — learn what they are looking for, how you can be of service and if you can follow up with them in the future for offers. If they’ve made the effort to enter your store, make an effort to get to know them and learn about them so you can better service them now and in the future. Please feel free to reach out with any questions.”

Invest in SEO and content marketing to increase online and offline visibility

Think online marketing is only for online businesses? Think again. As Patrick Chukwura, co-founder at Kuia, puts it, “just because you aren’t online doesn’t mean you can’t use online marketing to get people in the door.”  

He continues, “local SEO will get you discovered by search engines on Google and Bing maps, and get you into specialty directories where a specific audience is actually looking for your kind of store and products.”

Patrick adds that brick-and-mortar stores should also consider content marketing. 

“ Which shoe store would you rather go to — the one that you found online that has a 5-star review in Google, which also has an article teaching you how to pick a quality running shoe for your running style? Or would you choose the shoe store that just has a website with a phone number?

The answer should be obvious — the first one.

Use email marketing to increase store traffic and repeat purchases

“One thing that brick and mortar retailers can learn from ecommerce is using email marketing to keep in touch with customers,” shares Karim Pearson, a digital marketing strategist at CoderMarketer.com.

“Email marketing comes much more naturally to online retailers as they already operate in the digital realm, but there’s no excuse for brick and mortar stores to have no email follow up with customers. That leaves them reliant on customers to just show up when they feel like it, instead of using email to proactively reach out to customers and let them know when they have an upcoming sale, a new selection of products, an in-store event, etc.”

Elizabeth Gibson, chief content officer at ezLandlordForms.com, echoes this saying, “I wish I had a dollar for every brick and mortar store that took my email address, then never bothered to send me anything interesting. Email lists are gold in eCommerce.”

“We know that email marketing brings far better ROI than just about any other outbound marketing effort. I don’t think brick and mortar stores have truly capitalized on the value of having what is, essentially, an invitation from the customer to regularly interact with them.”

Need some inspiration on how to do this? Check out this message from apparel retailer New York & Co.

NY&C sent out an email inviting customers to its in-store event in which attendees will enjoy free refreshments, styling, raffles, and even 50% off their purchase.

Bottom line

These are just some of the things brick and mortar stores can learn from ecommerce merchants. There’s certainly more where that came from, so be sure to keep studying your online counterparts to see how you can apply their strategies to enhance your store.

And if you have other ecommerce lessons to share with the brick-and-mortar community, leave a comment below and let us know!

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

  • I think this information is also important for Retailers who have an online presence (if you don’t, why not?). If you can streamline and tailor the customer experience across all your channels by using a combination of these tools in store and your online toolbox, you have a complete picture of what your customers are doing. This is great for not only owners but also great for customers as you can adjust your business to meet their needs better.

    • Right on, Richard. Offering a seamless and personalized customer experience across multiple channels is essential for retailers who wish to thrive in this day and age And I think this is something every merchant (online or offline) can agree on.

      Do you have any recommendations/examples of how to do this right? Feel free to share your thoughts. 🙂

      • I don’t know if there is technically a “right” way – but it comes down to having a clear view of your customer, their purchase habits and preferences regardless of channel. Obviously using a product like Vend integrated into eCommerce gets you part way there – but from a customer perspective concepts like Buy Online/Pickup in Store, Cross Channel Loyalty and iBeacon’s are helping to bridge that gap as well.

  • ji

    hi

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