Retail vs. etail

4 MINS Team

Online shopping today has never been easier. Grab your phone or turn on your desktop, have a few clicks, and wait for that item to arrive at your doorstep. But in spite of the convenience that mobile technology brings, 85% of consumers still prefer to shop in physical stores. One recent survey reported that only 27% of consumers make purchases online at least once a week, compared to nearly 40% who would rather buy in-store.

The same study found that more than half of consumers said they shop in stores to avoid delivery fees. Sixty percent said they preferred the brick-and-mortar stores because they wanted to have their items immediately and wanted to see the items in person before buying them. “Instant gratification”, as they call it. Consumers are fond of touching, feeling, and buying the item at the same moment.

Although shopping in-store clearly has some significant advantages over shopping online, it also has a few drawbacks, too. The most common is having to wait in line to pay for things. The long lines and inconvenience in stores when it’s crowded or noisy can become a reason for shoppers to turn to online shopping.

Still, brick and mortar retailers should not underestimate the benefits of online outlets. Around three-quarters of shoppers spend time browsing online before buying in physical store. They use online stores for price comparisons and discovering products. This year, more than 2 million orders were made on Facebook. This is more than 200-percent growth over 2014.

If you’re a retailer, here are a few more things to consider concerning on- and offline shopping, as well as a few ideas you can use to exceed your customer’s expectations and improve their experiences in either case. You don’t have to forsake one for the other.

Online vs. In-store: Should you keep both?

Do you really need a physical shop? That might depend on the kinds of products or services you have. Many successful companies, like Amazon and Netflix are “store-less”, yet decimated a number of DVD rentals and bookstores. At the same time, this isn’t reason enough to merit closing your physical store and replacing it with an online shop. George Cook, an executive professor for marketing and psychology at University of Rochester, noted how Apple and Nordstrom reinvented their shopping experiences to make them more than just transactions with cashiers.

Consider the case with Apple, one of the world’s most successful tech companies. Because it is a brand for “techies”, one might expect that they would only sell online. But Steve Jobs knew the importance of human experience, so he came up with an exceptional integrated service model. A shopper in an Apple store can purchase goods right from the salesperson’s handheld device.

What shoppers desire

Remember that most shoppers love the feeling they get when they touch and see an item. There’s the natural, human element associated with physical stores. When it comes to online shoppers, in addition to the obvious advantage of convenience (being able to order from any location), their needs are more technical, like having the flexibility to choose delivery times. They want options to reroute packages, or to choose eco-friendly shipping. Data from Walker Sands also revealed that eight out of 10 consumers will shop more online if offered free shipping. Additionally, about 44% of shoppers are more likely to buy online if they are able to pick-up in store and 62% are more likely to do so, if they can return the item in-store.

Showrooming vs. Webrooming

Showrooming refers to the practice of examining a product in a brick and mortar shop before buying it online at a lower price. Many online retailers can afford to sell their items at a lower price because they do not have the same overhead costs as their brick and mortar counterparts. For example, a new Macy’s weatherproof cost was priced at $112 in store and only $69.99 online. Does that mean that physical stores lose sales? Not necessarily. Gone are the days when showrooming was a death knell for retailers. Now, many shoppers do it the other way around by “reverse showrooming” or “webrooming”. Shoppers will examine products online before going to the physical shops to purchase items, increasingly while on their mobile devices, in or near retail stores.

Making the most of Digital Technology

If your retail business is online, be sure to customize your pages according to customers’ preferences. You don’t really lose much when you display your products online, because your virtual shelf-space is virtually free. There may also be more that you can do for mobile shoppers, which are continuing to grow in numbers.

If you still don’t have a mobile-optimized store locator, you can improve this feature to help your consumers find you more easily. You can also optimize your site for tablet use or support a responsive web design. When browsing becomes easier for shoppers, they’ll be more inclined to impulse shop, which leads to higher sales for retailers. Sandhya Venkatachalam, a Founding Partner of Centerview Capital Technology, says e-commerce will continue to displace portions of retail sales, but in a meaningful way. The real, live human experience will continue to have a role to play in the larger omni-channel approach to branding, transacting, and fulfillment. You can enjoy the best of both worlds.

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