The simple truth is that it doesn’t have to. There is no denying that online shopping has grown substantially over the past decade. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region has the largest online market globally, and high levels of growth in the Australian e-commerce market have a lot to do with this*.
This is fuelled by the fact that 85% of Australians have access to the internet, and we have 19.4 million mobile phone users (in comparison to other countries this is a substantial proportion of our population). Plus, according to Ray Morgan, 4 out of every 10 people purchase products from e-commerce stores at least once a month.
Plus, let’s face it: buying online is convenient. You can do it in your pajamas at 3am if you like, or even order your groceries whilst on the train on the way to work and know they will be delivered the next afternoon. There is no denying that online is here to stay, and its ease of use will continue to grow, especially on mobile devices.
However, although e-commerce is growing faster than any other retail sector, the opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers is far from extinct. They simply need to adapt and use the growth of online sales and internet usage to their advantage.
Online and in-store go hand-in-hand
Approximately 71% of consumers are shopping online to find the best available price, which is now commonly referred to as “showrooming”. That is checking your smartphone to compare the price when you’re actually standing in a store. Another common practice is “webrooming”, which involves comparing multiple e-commerce stores to find the lowest price*. To be honest, the days of complete customer loyalty are probably on their way out as the cost of living increases. So unless money is not a problem for you (yay for you!), price does factor into the equation.
However, rather than seeing technology as the enemy in this scenario, it can, in fact, help brick-and-mortar. Many stores have introduced instant coupons and price comparison apps for their shoppers, in an effort to prevent losing sales to showrooming or online price comparison searches. In addition, using platforms like Facebook to run “Offer’s” advertisements when a consumer is in close proximity to a store, encourages the marriage between online and in-store because consumers can be confident they are getting a good deal.
Expectations and realities
What consumers expect from the process of buying in-store and online are very different. People buying from stores are willing to give up time, money and the effort to travel to a store and in return will expect good customer assistance and the instant gratification of getting what they needed right there and then.
When it comes to purchasing online, there is low effort involved, however, there is the expectation of choice, transparency on inventory levels and the ability to research prices, reviews and promotional offers.
In addition, consumer psychologist Phillip Graves, explains that consumers are more likely to purchase familiar products online from brands they can trust, and expect reasonable quality from. The reason being that it’s likely an unfamiliar item which can’t be seen or felt will need to be returned and this outweighs the convenience of buying online.
By understanding these expectations, retailers (and even e-commerce stores) can play to their strengths. Don’t give your customers a reason to switch to online because they had an unpleasant (or even negative) experience with a store assistant. Focus on training personnel and offering the services that a computer just can’t. Also, remember that for many people shopping is about more than consumerism – it’s an event and activity in and of itself. It’s an opportunity to spend the afternoon with friends or escape the madness of the kids for a while. There is an emotional aspect to shopping, like finding the perfect dress that when you try it on makes you feel like a million bucks – and that can’t be matched by online shopping. Retailers should use this emotional connection to their advantage and even subtly play on it in their advertising.
If you can’t beat them, join them
The bottom line is that all retail stores should have some form of online strategy to complement their in-store offers and essentially drive people back in-store. They don’t need to have a big online e-commerce site, which requires warehouses and shipping logistics, but even Mom&Pop’s Chicken Shop could have a Facebook page which promotes specials and offers.
Email is also another really easy way to have an online presence with little input. When people make a purchase in-store, offer them the option of 10% off their next purchase if they signup for your emails. This way you can send them offers and notifications of specials to drive them back in-store.
By joining the online shopping revolution, brick-and-mortar stores can close the gap between what they could be loosing to their purely online competitors.