eCommerce, today, seems to have all the advantages. It isn't limited to any specific locality for its business, and customers can buy from the comfort of their homes or wherever they happen to be. Because eCommerce stores are online, Internet marketing campaigns bring in website traffic that's also shopping traffic. And advanced website analytics give these stores instant insights into customer behavior. Offline stores can set up websites too, but website traffic isn't shopping traffic, and there's a world of difference between clicking a "buy now" button and making a special trip to a store.
The Appeal of Offline Retail Stores
Do the advantages of eCommerce mean that offline retail will go the way of the dinosaur? Hardly. First, there's the matter of being able to see, feel, and try out goods at offline stores. No amount of fancy eCommerce product photos and text will replace this shopping experience. Many people want to see how well apparel fits and looks while wearing it. If you're interested in buying a new type of advanced running shoes or hiking boots, the prudent thing to do is to try them out at the store before committing your money. It also helps that making returns at offline stores is far easier.
Although ordering something online is fast and efficient, receiving it is another matter. Shipping the goods to your doorstep can take from a couple days to a week. By contrast, the offline experience offers the instant gratification of having the goods in your hands after purchasing. If you suddenly desire new shoes while driving in your car, you can pull into the nearest store, buy them, and change into them inside your car in the store parking lot. No eCommerce store can provide that fast of a turnaround.
The tactile and visual shopping experience of physically browsing through goods, and the instant gratification aspect are both important to much of the public. For many, shopping is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. On the other hand, eCommerce generally works best for those with limited time. Those favoring offline shopping tend to have more free time.
Although online stores could never replace the experience of shopping offline, eCommerce nevertheless displaces customers that might otherwise patronize brick-and-mortar stores such as yours. However, there are steps you can take to beat your eCommerce competition and get more of these customers back into your store:
Win a Bigger Share of Their Online Traffic With Inbound Marketing
The most successful eCommerce site owners are masters of inbound marketing. This involves publishing useful content online that's beneficial to their market. The content serves to attract visitors and to gain their trust. With sufficient exposure, much of this traffic converts into regular buying customers. This is commonly done by publishing content on their own blogs as well as on social media platforms. There's no reason why you can't compete for this online traffic by engaging in inbound marketing as well.
What sort of content should you publish? It must be high quality and should solve your market's pain points in some way. For example, a rock climbing shop might publish content about strength and balance exercises to do during the off-season winter months. At the end of the content, specific exercise devices such as a portable climbing wall, which is sold at the shop (and possibly at a discount), might be recommended.
Note that the traffic you're interested in are people within driving distance of your store. Optimize your website and blog for local search. This means including references to your town and state. Avoid awkward keyword stuffing by only placing these references in your content and titles where they make sense. Include local references in your meta description tags as well. This way, your website and blog will appear higher in the search results for people local to your area.
Use In-Store Analytics
Although your website benefits from traffic analytics software, there's still the matter of knowing how much of this web traffic made the trip to your store. Without knowing this, you can't test your online call to actions and blog subject matter to learn which work best. Without this critical feedback, your efforts are just educated guesses, which are fine for the first round of content generation. But continual refinement through testing and measuring the results is what separates those who profit the most from inbound marketing, and those who don't.
Fortunately, people today don't go anywhere without their mobile devices. In-store WI-FI sensor technology tracks these devices when they enter your store and can provide real-time traffic analytics such as your daily traffic. Comparing changes in your website (and social media) traffic with that in your store can reveal which of your online efforts are working and which aren't. You can obtain information on the individual level as well as that of large groups. The right sensor technology will also provide additional in-store traffic information such as the average time spent in your store, popular visitor times, customer lifetime value, and other useful metrics.
Promote the Benefits of Offline Shopping
Don't hesitate to point out the convenience of owning and using a product today, by coming down to your store. This tactic works well for many consumer products. For example, during hot summer weather, you might promote the benefits of owning an air conditioner today.
For bulky or heavy items, mention the money saved by not paying for shipping. For apparel and items requiring a proper fit, mention the importance of avoiding returns by checking an item out at your store and getting it right. Sporting goods, such as golf clubs, can be checked at your location for their balance and heft.
Provide the Personal Touch With Your Patrons
The impersonal nature of eCommerce can work to your advantage by providing exceptional customer service and assistance to your in-store visitors. Hire friendly staff who can remember names and are knowledgeable with the goods you sell. This allows them to answer questions and give out advice. Send post cards commemorating special occasions, such as birthdays, to loyal customers.
Use in-store analytics provided by WI-FI sensor technology in combination with your website analytics, as well as the other suggestions above to compete with and beat your eCommerce competitors. These also give you an edge over your offline competitors.