Online retailers have many advantages over traditional brick and mortar, including instant global presence, hyper-competitive pricing due to low overhead and a storefront that never closes. E-commerce was, of course, particularly relevant in 2020 with the shutdown, and made headway into brick and mortar's sizable chunk of retail sales.
While brick and mortar still accounts for the majority of retail purchases, it is lagging behind in one respect where you'd think it might thrive--building better customer relationships.
It's a counter-intuitive concept. Traditional retailers should excel in creating and fostering one-to-one relationships. After all, the clerk working at the store can get to know you and create a true relationship better than any computer algorithm can.
Most retailers are failing horribly at the task, however. What should be the major advantage in any brick and mortar endeavor is falling short. Where is brick and mortar failing when it comes to building better one-on-one relationships? Here are three ways ecommerce retailers are beating brick at mortar at their own game of relationship building, and how brick and mortar can take it back.
Everything from social media to AI and machine learning have given online retailers something vital: data. With the breadth and depth of data points collected on you, online brands today can seem to know you better than you might even know yourself. An initial, successful visit to an online store happens and, before you know it, the retailer welcomes you back cheerily the next time around with the latest offers tailored just for you. Cookies allow websites to offer "featured" and "recommended" products that play to your purchase history and help you feel welcome. All of it feels curated, and personal, too.
While brick and mortar may not have scads of data to parse, they do have the advantage with something much more subtle when it comes to welcoming customers: a smile and a greeting.
Yes, all retailers claim to train their staff in greeting customers. Few, however, do it well. Where brick and mortar gets this very right is on the luxury end. The best, high-end brands (think: Chanel, Saks, etc.) remember their customers' purchases and welcome them with a curated offering of products to complement their previous buys. The truth is, someone who drops thousands on purchases is easy to remember. What's more, catering to these customers delivers on ROI.
Small shops, on the other hand, can't necessarily do this. They can, however, still drill into their employees the absolute necessity of greeting every customer with a smile and "welcome" message.
Brands like CVS, with their "Well-come to CVS" greeting for every customer and Chick-Fil-A with its "it is my pleasure to serve you" greeting really stand out. Brick and mortar needs to learn from these examples and ensure that everyone who walks in feels welcome and attended to.
Phone Call Follow-Ups and Handwritten Notes to Clients
Another area where online retailers have the advantage is in follow-up. Large online retailers are following up through new and expanding channels. Many, such as Abercrombie and Macy's, use text messaging to communicate with their demographic. Chewy.com, for instance, is notorious for using something even more effective-- handwritten notes.
How can large online brands be sending handwritten notes? Oftentimes, they use services like my company to do so automatically.
Recently, while walking through a department store, I saw perfume bottles of a fragrance client of mine. The store clerk approached me and asked if I needed assistance. I explained that we write handwritten notes for online sales of this brand, and she looked at me in shock. It turns out she was responsible for writing handwritten notes for her store clients, but never had enough time to do so.
The brand had automated the solution for online sales, but put the responsibility on the clerk for offline sales, where automation would have helped the most. It was a prime example of where online services could be better leveraged by offline retailers, making them efficient and better ensuring compliance.
Finally, brick and mortar has been dropping the ball when it comes to exclusivity. Making clients feel truly special, through in-store events and exclusive access, is a powerful differentiator for brick and mortar in the offline versus online competition.
Exclusive access to early offers is done easily online. Sales for "text subscribers only" is one good example. In the customer's eyes, however, this doesn't really ring true. These efforts are often seen as no different than any other online sales experience.
Stores, on the other hand, can offer truly exclusive events. At Nordstrom, for instance, certain parts of the store are frequently cordoned off for preview sales available only to loyalty club members. As non-members walk through the store, a feeling of being left-out drives enrollment in the loyalty program. And those select few who are let behind the curtain begin to build true loyalty to a brand. No matter whether a shop is bigger and more glamorous like a Nordstrom or a quaint corner store, brick and mortar should be taking advantage of this.
While online brands have many advantages, building strong customer relationships should not be one of them. Offline brands, with their friendly faces, personal follow-up and exclusive activities can regain the upper ground with some thoughtful planning and effort. The personal touch still matters, and brick and mortar is ideally positioned to deliver a better experience.