Retail locations aren’t going anywhere, but their strategies are changing.

As consumers move toward online shopping experiences, it’s become a critical time for brick-and-mortar stores to reshape their business strategies for modern demands.

E-commerce stores like Amazon and eBay continue to prove that physical locations are optional for modern businesses. Online sales have pulled ahead of in-store shopping for the first time, proving just how much the internet is changing the retail industry. In this article, we’ll show you how your brick-and-mortar location can fit into this online-driven world.

What is a brick-and-mortar store?

The term “brick-and-mortar” is used to describe retailers with at least one physical space. Brick-and-mortar stores are places where consumers can walk in and shop with all their senses, instead of relying on pictures and written descriptions alone. Common examples of this type of retailer include department stores, grocery stores, salons, fast food chains, and even the highly modern Apple stores at your local shopping malls.

While traditional brick-and-mortar stores are often pitted against online retailers, this isn’t to say that companies are limited to either online or offline channels. In fact, the rise of e-commerce—and beyond that, mobile commerce—has made a multichannel business strategy more important than ever for physical stores.

“Brick-and-mortar” may have roots in traditional building materials, but if tradition is the only foundation of your business, it won’t stay solid as the marketing landscape shifts. Blending online and offline tactics is a necessity for continuing your business growth.

The future of brick-and-mortar stores

As the “retail apocalypse” continues to affect a long list of major brands—from department stores like Sears and Macy’s to drugstores like CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens—it may seem like brick-and-mortar is nearing its demise. However, these closures are far from a sign that physical stores are doomed.

Take Walmart for example. The company is by far the world’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer. Though it did close a few stores in 2019, the brand is actually catching up with Amazon and now ranks as the third largest online store in the world.

So what’s the difference between brick-and mortar businesses that thrive and those that die? In many cases, it’s the speed of adaptation. The retail apocalypse is less a sign that physical retail stores are over and more an indication of changing consumer behavior.

People still want an in-store experience—for example, when they need to test drive a car or try on multiple pairs of shoes—but they are taking to the internet for many stages of the buyer’s journey. As they take advantage of the web, they expect to be able to learn more about and even reach out to your company from just about anywhere.

How successful brick-and-mortar stores communicate

With only 7% of shoppers using exclusively online shopping, it’s clear that there’s still a place for retailers with a physical presence. A large part of staying competitive in the modern world is knowing how to drive internet-savvy shoppers to checkout and provide the best customer experience possible.

Below, we’ll describe five communication strategies you can use to improve customer satisfaction for your brick-and-mortar store and move shoppers forward in the buyer’s journey.

1. Help customers reach out

The internet has given consumers a substantial amount of power over their own shopping experiences. As a result, buyers expect to be able to initiate conversations with businesses when it’s convenient for them.

With 63% of all shopping occasions starting on the web, according to Google, your customers likely won’t be headed to your storefront when they have questions. Instead, they’ll be seeking answers online.

Your website should offer plenty of options for customers to easily reach out. This may include your phone number, email, and a contact form. We also recommend implementing a comprehensive chat tool that allows visitors to reach you from any page, so you can better capture leads and communicate with them in an even more convenient channel: text messaging.

Actively engaging with customers on your social media channels is also a great way to build relationships through two-way conversation, even before they visit you in-store.

2. Prioritize your response time

In the age of instant gratification, customers want responses as soon as possible. In the span of one year, from 2014 to 2015, the majority of consumers went from expecting email responses in four hours to expecting them in just one hour. Today, instant responses come recommended for professionals. With 51% of customers agreeing that businesses should be ready to engage at any moment, 24/7 support has become an important service for many companies.

Make sure you have a dedicated process for responding to customers on every channel—including online reviews. This process should include who needs to respond and when, as well as guidelines for what the response should look like. This way, your customers will get a seamless and consistent interaction whenever they reach out.

If you want to centralize all your interactions, Podium can help you streamline your messages from every channel so you never forget to respond.

3. Drive customers to your store

As you develop a relationship with your customer, the next step is to increase your foot traffic by encouraging customers to visit your store. Even if you have both an e-commerce and brick-and-mortar store, this is an important step, as online cart abandonment rates exceed 85% on mobile. By getting users to head to your store, you’ll be able to use in-store marketing tools, including displays and a showrooming strategy, to encourage customers to check out and buy other items, too.

To drive customers to your store, you can use digital marketing strategies like social media, email, and SMS marketing to turn the conversation toward why they need to visit you. For example, a clothing brand may follow up with a lead by promoting an in-store exclusive sale.

4. Be available in-store

Once your customer has made it to your physical building, their experience should be no less convenient. Your team members should be on the floor, ready to answer questions, be a friendly face, and help customers as needed. You can also implement ways for customers to easily call for assistance, such as a call button that alerts your employees.

Some businesses even make it easy for customers to live chat with them online while they shop in store. For example, you can provide free WiFi with a landing page that directs customers to your site, social media channel, or app—wherever you have chat functions implemented.

To keep your in-store experience as efficient as possible, your communication strategy should also consider how your team members can stay connected on the floor. For example, you’ll want to avoid making a customer wait at a cash register while you run to your storeroom to check if a product is in stock.

5. Follow up

The end of the in-store shopping trip doesn’t have to be the end of your conversation with your customer. After a customer makes a purchase, you can turn back to your online channels with the goal of getting them to return to your store once again. To keep your customer engaged, you may thank them for their visit, offer a discount for their next in-store visit, or suggest products they may enjoy based on their purchase.

Continuing to go beyond in-store communication after the first visit is a great way to create loyal customers out of your current shoppers.

Streamline your messages

Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going anywhere, but the brands that stay are going to be those that adapt to a tech-savvy world. More and more consumers are using digital channels to engage with brands and start the customer journey, which means you need to ensure you’re open to communications in-store and online. Consumers want convenience, so you need to be wherever they need you.

Get our free “Chat for Local Retailers” e-book to learn more about how you can dominate your industry as a brick-and-mortar retailer.

Eric Fuessel
Eric Fuessel Director of Retail & Hospitality Sales

Eric Fuessel is a retail professional at Podium, the leading messaging platform that connects consumer businesses with their customers.

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