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.