Originally published in CustomerThink.
Rumors of retail’s death have been greatly exaggerated since the advent of the internet, yet brick-and-mortar shopping has survived threat after threat. COVID-19 is an unprecedented worldwide pandemic and has changed the way we do so many things that were once second nature, including going to the store. Online shopping has grown substantially since the original outbreak in early 2020, with many retail businesses struggling to stay afloat. But does this make the pandemic the final nail in the coffin of in-person shopping?
Nobody can predict for certain what the future holds, but it’s fair to say change is always the most reliable constant. The retail industry must change to survive and that means blending aspects of the popular online shopping experience with the irreplaceable in-person benefits of going out and shopping.
Make In-Person More Personal
To prepare for when humanity is not stuck indoors and forced to shop online, brick-and-mortar retailers should take stock of how they can add some of that online shopping convenience to their stores’ considerable appeal. For example, one of the nice things about online shopping is a personalized, private experience. Nobody browsing on Amazon has to worry about getting jostled or stuck in a crowded showroom. Physical retail spaces could easily adopt appointment-based shopping, letting customers schedule time slots in which to shop privately or at least as one of a few other shoppers in the space. Digital line management solutions can make setting personalized shopping appointments easy, creating synergy between two powerful online tools available to retail locations.
Appointment shopping can actually boost revenue. “More customers in the store equals more money” may sound intuitive, but appointment shoppers get more one-on-one attention from staff, which can raise sales by an average of 100 percent as employees and customers can build a rapport. Thus, physical retail spaces can blend the privacy and personal touch of online retail with the interpersonal attention and social interaction so unique to in-person shopping.
Curbside to Inside
Many of us have come to rely on curbside pickup for our online orders, and that preference may not fade with the pandemic. But it needn’t just be big box and grocery stores that offer curbside pickup right off their website. Any retail location with a good website (so, any retailer who’s been paying attention) can set aside a spot for pickups. This saves shop floor space for appointment customers, and there’s always a chance curbside customers will look inside into that tantalizing physical space and want to come in. Customers can sign up for their pickup time online using a digital queue and be able to dip into the store while they wait for their curbside order to come up.
Mobile shopping is expected to account for 54 percent of online shopping in 2021, and there is nothing keeping physical retailers from leveraging this ubiquitous and convenient technology. More and more people are relying on mobile payments, so stores that don’t accept a mobile scan will soon be treated with the same incredulity as those that don’t take credit. The more ways customers have to pay, after all, the likelier they are to spend, and stores will never lose a sale because somebody forgot their wallet.
Mobile marketing has also been a major boost to online shopping outlets, and brick-and-mortar stores can absolutely get in on this benefit by offering discounts and incentives to customers who opt into online promotions and ads. And since SMS open rates are much higher than email open rates, mobile text ads are a more bankable form of communication.
All is Not Lost
Folks crying doom for in-person retailers seem oddly deaf to how desperate everyone is to get back out into the world. While 2020 may have been a rough year for any business reliant on face-to-face interactions, the advent of COVID vaccines means the whole world will soon be rushing back out to stores. With multiple shops set to open for each one now closing, it’s clear the brick-and-mortar store isn’t going the way of the dodo just yet. Retailers can adapt to a post-COVID world by adopting personalized shopping experiences, curbside pickup, digital line management, and other new techniques. These approaches will help close the gap with online retail and keep physical spaces very much alive in the real world once the world reopens and the masks come off.