Even in the modern age of global telecommuting, the importance of your physical storefront can't be understated. The internet didn't kill retail stores and maybe it never will, especially when you consider the importance of the customer experience. The fact that the retail store still thrives doesn't mean that the role of the retail store hasn't changed though. In today's post, we'll discuss the importance of your physical storefront, as well as touch on what the consumer expects in an integrated, synchronized consumer world.
The first step to understanding the place of the brick-and-mortar store to the modern shopping experience is to understand that digital and so-called "real life" experiences are being differentiated between customers less and less often. Mobile data has put the world at their fingertips 24/7, and they expect to find what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. This becomes evident in four distinct ways.
Buy Online for In-Store Pickup
While you're probably most familiar with this in association with layover purchases in general or holiday shopping, the buy-online-pickup-in-store phenomenon is global. (So are the closely related habits of younger consumers, colloquially referred to as "showrooming" and "webrooming.") This is because this shopping option gives consumers the best of both worlds: they can shop in comfort from wherever they are (especially if they're shopping mobile) then head to the store for either instant gratification (which we'll touch on in a moment) or simple exclusion of the extra costs of shipping and handling. Depending on how this feature is offered—namely, if the retailer utilizes store-to-store shipping or links their e-commerce listings with inventory tracking per store—it also eliminates location-specific inventory gaps for customers on the hunt for something specific.
Furthermore, it offers you, as a business owner, some distinct advantages. According to the international consulting firm, Bain & Company, retailers that take the step of integrating retail storefronts and distribution (at least conceptually) see sales boosted not only in-store, but online by about 20%. In fact, when customers head into the store to pick up their online purchase, they're also much more likely to make additional purchases, rather than the singular purchase completed online. There's also a significant lift in customer satisfaction.
Personal and Personality
For the same reason mom-and-pop shops will never fade away, physical storefronts will stick around for a long time to come because they easily offer something that isn't so easy to accomplish with an ecommerce storefront: personal experience. A brick-and-mortar store offers unique personality and experience that can only be truly accomplished in physical spaces. In fact, Retail Small Business Management program head, Leslie Hildula, hits the nail on the head when chatting on PCC Small Business Development Center’s Biz503 podcast: "Shopping is a social experience. That's why brick & mortar stores matter."
Consumers don't see a difference between the internet, stores, or distribution centers—what they favor is connectivity, experience, and expediency. Walking into a store is a multi-sensory experience, which aligns well with the multi-channel shopping experience consumers are growing to expect. You can handle electronics, try on clothes, smell cologne or candles, and lately enough, see the products most favored by the retailer's social media following.
Customer Service as Face-to-Face Contact
An extension of the new integrated, omni-channel consumer journey includes customer service, of course. And while you may understand that means evolving the way you provide customer service online—with the proliferation of options such as live chat—what you may not realize is how much customers value a friendly face. A large percentage of customers still favor certain shopping experiences to be in-store because of how they prefer customer service, relying on the personal experience to extend to a customer service representatives personal interest in finding solutions. As Hildula said, "You can provide excellent customer service online as well but brick and mortars stores put faces to names and provide an increased level of service you can’t get online." A perfect example of this is Apple's Genius Bar at their storefront locations.
This can also extend to customer service in the other direction, i.e., before a purchase is made. Some customers want to speak to a knowledgeable associate as a part of their research to purchase because, no matter how flexible an ecommerce return policy is, it represents a frustrating delay and extra work.
Impulse and Instant Gratification
As we mentioned in our first reason, customers who buy online and pick up in-store are more likely to make additional purchases while they're there. Why is that? Quite simply, retail locations offer instant gratification, not only for needs, but for impulse purchases. And anyone that thinks that the impulse buy is dying hasn't been paying enough attention. That's simply something ecommerce isn't capable of evoking, even if a good online retailer knows how to attract customers to purchase things they haven't pre-planned for.
Hopefully these four reasons for why your brick and mortar store matters helps you understand the magnitude of the importance of your physical storefront. After all, even internet retail giant, Amazon is opening physical storefronts in an attempt to craft superior experiences. If you're still not sure about how this applies to how you run your business, you can learn how to improve your physical and digital storefronts to make the best first impression, generate more traffic, and increase sales, when you download a free copy of our book, Taking Your Retail Business to the Next Level!