Striking A Balance Between Physical And Online Retail

6th August, 2018 by

Although our high streets are clearly in trouble, it’s inaccurate to say the internet is chiefly responsible. In fact, many online businesses have a real-world presence too – either predating the internet or expanding upon a successful online venture. Convenient as online orders undoubtedly are, there’s something uniquely satisfying about leaving a shop carrying new purchases.

In many respects, the combination of physical and online retail represents the best of both worlds. It certainly covers all the bases from a consumer perspective, providing a choice between shopping in town centres or at home. Plus, it caters to the growing number of people who want to research online but buy offline – a concept known as ROBO. As such, shops provide a reassuring and complementary presence alongside ecommerce websites:

#1. They enable people to physically see, feel and evaluate items – before making a buying decision in the privacy of their own homes.

#2. They reassure consumers about the viability of returns or refunds – if an online order needs replacing or doesn’t meet with their approval.

#3. They demonstrate the business is established and trustworthy – not some fly-by-night venture waiting to take everyone’s cash and then disappear.

#4. They generate a second channel for attracting new customers –  instead of relying on search engines and online advertising to do all the work.

#5. They provide greater choice and convenience – a Royal Mail survey indicated 93 per cent of UK consumers make purchases in the real and virtual worlds.

#6. They support value-added services like click and collect, which is rapidly growing in popularity – often leading to additional point of sale transactions.

#7. They reflect trends – an upcoming book with lots of online pre-orders can be positioned centrally in a shop window, with the author invited to a signing session.

Ecommerce websites also bring symbiotic benefits for real-world outlets. A site could publish opening hours, branch contact information, or travel and parking advice. It might allow appointments or consultations to be booked with in-store experts, upload assembly guides or operating instruction PDFs, or offer live chat support in the event of queries or complaints. A website could feature a live video guide to finding a backstreet shop, or interactive directions to nearby car parks.

So how do you juggle the potentially competing aspects of ecommerce websites and customer-facing premises? These are UK2’s tips for getting the balance right…

#1. Choose affordable yet quirky premises.

From Shoreditch’s Boxpark to Glasgow’s Princes Square, unusual outlets often trump single-fronted high street units. Choose space based on passing footfall, short-term rental deals and surrounding businesses.

#2. Present products and services in the same way.

Standardise the customer journey by ensuring the website and in-store experiences are cohesive. Prepare and upload detailed descriptions both online and offline, so consumers are equally well-informed.

#3. Use online techniques offline.

Product reviews are a staple of ecommerce websites, so why not display in-store QR codes linking to online reviews or spec sheets? Cashiers could invite customers to sign up for marketing eshots with discounts or incentives.

#4. Permit collection and return via both platforms.

People should be able to post back an in-store purchase or bring an online order in for an exchange. Convenience has become central to consumer decision-making and brand loyalty.

#5. Exploit the potential of having premises.

We mentioned book signings earlier, but shops are also suitable for product launches, seminars and masterclasses, for example. Online-only brands miss out on this – and associated pre/post-event marketing opportunities.

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