Once upon a time, a store was only a place. In those days, people would pile into their physical cars and drive to the physical store, then came home with whatever they wanted immediately. One day, the Age of Ecommerce dawned and suddenly a store could mean just a string of letters in a web browser. All over the world, a certain percentage of shoppers decided that driving to the store was a hassle. It usually made more sense to them to stay home, order online, and let others handle the transportation logistics.
Remarkably, both worlds still co-exist today and the two worlds of commerce are increasingly blended together harmoniously. Amazon is buying more brick-and-mortar stores, such as Whole Foods grocery stores and Amazon-branded bookstore cafes where marketing materials include customer reviews that were posted online. Meanwhile, while traditional retailers are learning the digital world and incorporating software to optimize their digital supply chains.
Over the past decade, best practices have emerged as retail leaders have nailed down the most profitable and practical pathways to satisfy customers along both channels at the same time.
In a physical store, organization is a sign of professionalism. Clothes are neatly arranged on hangers and consumer goods are set up with labels forward. Apply the same principle in presenting options online. Consumers want infinite choices but broken down into categories. They will never click or swipe through 100 pages of images, but they will drill down into increasingly smaller categories arranged in tiers.
People don't have time to make decisions based on inadequate or outdated product information. They expect your ecommerce site to present data that is comprehensive, trustworthy and current. Provide them with the roughly the same amount of information they could gather by going in person to the physical store. The quality of your data is more important than the object you are selling.
Site viewers come and go, but people who download your app tend to be those in the 20 percent who drive 80 percent of sales revenues. Keep repeat customers happy with exclusive deals, promotional deals, or early access to sales.
Shipping as a service is a new concept in retail where an outsourced company takes care of both delivery and returns. Economies of scale make it easier for them to match same-day/2-hr/ship-to-store timelines and prices. This has turned showrooming, which used to be a problem, into a marketing strategy. Showrooming is the term for when customers shop in the store and then buy online. You can reduce the number of options on display at the store and still offer customer more customized versions online. The reverse is where customers buy online and then pick up at the store, which tends to result in increased cart sizes and more cross-sells.
One of the biggest stories in blended commerce recently was when Walmart bought ecommerce retailer Jet. In terms of store-in-store promotions, online bed provider Casper rented retail space inside Target this year. Think of online and offline as two delivery channels for a single market strategy.
Physical stores can do things online can't, like letting people try out virtual reality goggles or meet local celebrities. Social promotions that go on during these events tend to drive revenues both online and offline. You don't have to get very creative to see all the post, photo, and video possibilities of promoting live events across customer networks.
Let customers in the store know that they can find you online by adding social profiles and app download codes to your physical signs. In the same way, don't use online space just for specials and discounts. Let them know about café options and experiential marketing like free samples and massage chairs in the store.
Thanks to Amazon, 2-day delivery is not such a big deal anymore. Leading retailers are partnering with delivery companies that usually work with ecommerce stores so they can deliver same day or even within the next two hours. Grocery and restaurant delivery services like Peapod or Uber Eats are branching out to new sectors within retail.
Restaurants that did a brisk pickup and delivery business found they didn't need as many chairs, tables or servers. Apply that logic to your store, as many retailers like Nordstrom have done over the past year. Move online pickup/drop-off lockers to a section of the store likely to drive impulse buys, like produce or snack aisles. Expand gaming, music, and electronics sections to encourage community among customers. Networks of people organized around a particular online gaming and music community encourage each other to keep up with the latest releases.
Nobody likes to wait, but when somebody jumps the line, you end up with many more disgruntled customers. Starbucks faced this head-on by making it easy to pick up online orders, but also offer frequent buyer bonuses to those who stand in line and then stay in the store to order more items. Nobody has the equation just right yet, so it is in your best interest to brainstorm and try new combinations of physical vs. digital promotions.
All of the above ideas grow from the concept of a blended commerce strategy that takes the highest demand features of an online merchant and marries them with the unique capabilities of brick-and-mortar. Start by combining the management of these two departments or at least tighten their collaboration agreements so they work in concert with each other. In the future, there won't be two worlds, just one continuous commerce environment.