eCommerce v stores: arch rivals or partners in retail?

With Debenhams and HMV among the retailers announcing the latest high-street store closures, multichannel retailers of every size and shape are keenly aware that they need to employ every trick in the book to boost footfall to ensure their branches remain relevant and profitable.

One often-overlooked strategy is to use eCommerce to drive store footfall in a bid to fit into customers’ lifestyles, convert wavering shoppers and map their offering against the modern consumer’s multichannel journey to purchase.

Savvy retailers, such as British furniture and furnishings specialists Heals have been leveraging online in this way for some time. The retailer has deliberately woven physical in-store experiences into their online customer journeys. With shoppers constantly looking for new ways to engage with their favourite stores, customers on that require advice and inspiration when browsing online, can tap a button and connect live with an expert style advisor in one of Heal’s physical stores.

Equipped with smartphones and tablets, Heal’s in-store style advisors provide their expertise to customers, particularly during busy hours online and quieter trading hours in  store. Sending recommendations, photos of the latest collections and even live video broadcasts, style advisors are providing a 1:1 shopping experience that brings the incredible collections to life.

Seize the click & collect opportunity

Retailers who don’t offer click & collect are missing a golden opportunity to not only boost in-store footfall but also to-up and cross-sell customers once they arrive in store.

Consumers lead busy lives and they are not always sure where they will be when their important online purchase is delivered. Rather than risk having to visit a courier’s delivery centre, many prefer to go to a store and collect their package in person.

According to GlobalData, click & collect is set to see a 45.8% growth in the UK over the next five years and if further proof of its popularity is needed, Argos recently announced its 10 millionth in-store pick up from eBay customers.

Retailers now realise that click & collect not only adds convenience to the customer journey, it can also generate incremental sales, as long as the retailer has a well-planned strategy in place. This can include clientelling at the pick-up point with sales staff able to suggest complimentary products and the opportunity to upgrade to a better and more profitable item.

Needless to say, click & collect must be well-executed, fast and friction-free so the experience builds customer loyalty and gives the shopper more time to browse.

Order returns

Just like click & collect, eCommerce returns offer another great opportunity to boost in-store footfall. Returns can be a costly enterprise for retailer and customer (depending on whether free returns postage is offered) so efficient in-store returns can be a great friction-free and cost-effective solution for customers and it opens up the same opportunities as click and collect when it comes to cross and up-selling as well as creating opportunities for customers to browse and buy spontaneously.

And with research by YouGov revealing that 74% of consumers are likely to switch retailers due to poor returns management, it’s vital the returns process is as easy and straightforward as possible to ensure their customers remain loyal.

Maximise the store-related areas of your website

It’s likely that a large number of your visitors are already looking for store information on your website or app.

First, make sure that your store locator is up to scratch, especially for mobile users, and make sure it’s easily locatable in your desktop and mobile site header or navigation. If your customers can’t find your store information on your website, you are not doing them any favours.

Next, upgrade the individual store pages on your website – these are the digital ambassadors of your stores, yet most retailers have uninspiring directory-style listings.

Make sure these pages contain all of the information that your customers need – at a minimum this means addressing contact details and opening hours, but the best pages provide:

  • Interactive map
  • Public transport information
  • Driving directions and parking information
  • Disabled access and mobility information
  • In-store events and workshops
  • Local social media accounts
  • Information about people working in the store
  • Decent photography – consider 360-degree shots.

Leverage local SEO

There are huge opportunities for multichannel retailers who optimise for local search. Local search is when search engines show consumers the most useful results based on where they are at that specific moment in time.

Online competitors can’t play in that area, and most offline competitors haven’t done the work to leverage local search, often because their digital teams aren’t incentivised to drive store footfall.

With the rise of smartphones, local SEO creates some compelling opportunities. Mobile users often look for nearby businesses on the go in a manner that simply wasn’t possible before.

Get local with your PPC campaigns

Overlay your store estate against your PPC campaigns. You are likely to see conversion steadily dropping the nearer the user is to one of your stores. This is because people search online before shopping offline. So, why not embrace this? There are plenty of creative footfall-driving efforts you can make with PPC. For example, use Adwords location extensions in your text ads, create retargeting groups for visitors to each of your website’s store pages and upload your stock file and take advantage of Google’s Local Inventory Ads (LIAs).

The goal for retailers in 2020 and beyond is to ensure that consumers can move seamlessly from one channel to another, creating a friction-free journey to purchase that enables the consumer to shop when, where and however they like. The result is a symbiotic relationship in which online and offline channels compliment and amplify each other ensuring the best possible physical and digital experiences for the customer, increasing both conversions and customer loyalty.

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