How to Find Strength In Being A Brick and Mortar Retail Store
By Bob Phibbs
This is a post for retailers with physical stores competing with online shopping and technology that threatens their retail sales.
We all cope with a world spinning out of control by controlling our own environment as much as we can.
Who we allow to follow us, the pictures we curate to show we’re having a great time, and who we text are all filtered versions of ourselves.
We like to believe we don’t need anyone. We’re self-sufficient and smart. I can do it myself and better.
Many of us, when dealing with the stresses of everyday life, turn to our smartphones to make us feel we are loved, when in fact, we are alone. Research shows the chemical dopamine that is released when we get a text on a smartphone gives us the same feeling as gambling or drinking.
Our focus on getting ahead and staying current means staying connected to social media platforms. Even with many followers, Millennials don’t rely on their friends because they know their friends will blow them off if something better comes along.
This has left many employees as well as shoppers adrift with the illusion of connection.
The trouble is that we’re growing more addicted to that dopamine rush of a text message.
Which is why we do more and more of it - we’re all addicted.
So of course technology is telling retailers to go where shoppers spend more of their time - on their phones.
Yet those smartphones, with their drug rush, can’t deliver the human connection that shoppers crave. And it is that human connection that brick and mortar retailers can use to combat online retailers and add meaning to many shoppers.
Through your retail sales training and customer service, your way of treating shoppers shows your commitment to the human-ness of making a connection. It may not change the world, but it just might make someone’s life better, even if only for a few minutes. And that’s enough.
In those few minutes, someone talked to them, engaged them, and they purchased something to make their lives more convenient or meaningful. Not only did they walk away with something tangible just for them, but they also left with a feeling that makes them want to return soon...to have the same exceptional experience.
Now I know there are those who tout a coming retail world devoid of physical stores, associates, and malls. Their bleak future is filled with gloves and glasses that let you immerse yourself in a virtual world while still within your own home.
A retail world where most everything is fake, from the assistance you get via AI to the 3D printed products delivered from autonomous vehicles. A world where brand recommendations have less value than Siri or Alexa. An always-connected world through our clothing, our cars, and even our bodies.
But that flies in the face of a basic need of shoppers: human connection.
Research confirms that human connection lies at the heart of human well-being. Knowing you’re valued and a contributing member of society from another person is incredibly reaffirming. A recent article in the NYT concludes, “It’s up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.”
But those connections take time. And every interaction we have in public either confirms or denies our personal value.
When we go shopping, beyond an unconscious need to connect with another human being, we’re also looking for someone to remove frustration from our lives.
We’re looking for someone to take over responsibility on an issue, a product, or a service we need and fix it.
We like to feel we are in good hands.
That’s why people still go to retail stores.
And will for the foreseeable future…
Own The Brick and Mortar Experience As Your Greatest Asset, Not Something To Apologize For
Retail sales builds one person at a time. Do it right and you form a relationship that lasts with your client. Do it wrong and you miss your chance.
Shoppers are looking for someone to be responsible for their happiness when they drive to your store. Welcome that challenge!
3 Tips How You Can Own Being a Brick and Mortar Store:
Constantly be looking at your store traffic flow. Where do shoppers go from the moment they walk in, until the moment they walk out? Do they turn around 10 feet in after giving your store a once-over? It’s probably because you unconsciously created a barrier. Where are you most profitable items located? The reality is you can move most any store around - yes, even the fixtures - if you’re committed to constantly making your store more exciting and in tune with your shoppers.
Always be upgrading your sales staff. Are you afraid to fire longtime employees who you hired to engage but can’t sell? How can you re-engage them to understand the party’s in the aisles, not behind the counter? What additional training are you giving them how to sell in the midst of an always-on consumer? What processes should be in place for how you want a customer to receive an exceptional experience? How are you measuring it against those standards?
Have fun with your marketing. When your marketing includes humor and can position you as the angel to a competitor’s devil, it gives your brand a personality. I did this with one of my first clients, read the story here .
Consider how you can make jokes about online retailers delivering something late, something the wrong size, and with the hassle of boxing up returns versus shopping in your store with your well-appointed fitting rooms where if a customer doesn’t like it, we put it back for them, your displays with items they can touch, feel and use - you get the point.
Here is an example of humor…
Amazon got a lot of press recently on the unveiling of their new Amazon Go convenience store where there are no cashiers or checkouts. Here is their video announcing it .
Here is a parody of the Amazon Go store from a French retailer.
Watch the video to see there are many elements you could steal for your own marketing. And if you were in an urban location like New York where customers don’t drive, you might even look at their delivery solution to begin offering in your store.
Good relationships, like eating well and getting enough exercise, aren’t just a matter of luck.
And expecting employees to magically create rewarding interactions with no selling process on your salesfloor is delusional.
Managers share some blame for not creating a great store to shop in because they are frequently focused on tasks and rarely steer employees to the important goal of developing their rapport-building skills.
Would you want to end up with the kind of life your employee has... with the kind of friendships they have? If not, you need to provide them the skills to forge deeper ties to people than tapping a heart emoji on Instagram.
They probably don’t have the soft skills you do but unless you train them, they’ll be stuck unable to converse with strangers. As a result, we as a culture lose too.
These spokes of connection create community first between two strangers, then within your entire store, and on to your entire community. Employees have to be taught if you are to claim the mantle of having a vibrant store culture.
Look, shoppers are shopping at a rate not seen since the mid-2000s, but you have to be brilliant on the basics.
Yes, online shopping will continue to improve and there will be all sorts of distractions like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies that will continue to make brick and mortar retailers feel like they are as antiquated as the doily your aunt puts under her mint tea pitcher in the summer – quaint but irrelevant.
And while many stores haven’t changed much since GWB was president, physical stores can still be incredibly relevant - if you own your physical location and don’t give in to crying the blues with a desperation that seeps into your every email, promotion, and new hire.
Don't just take my word for it...
Katia Beauchamp, CEO of Birchbox, predicts that in 2017, customers will increasingly visit stores to get curated experiences from shop representatives. For brands to meet this demand, they need to have well-trained staff who understand products inside and out and can offer personalized advice. According to Fast Company, "In Beauchamp's view, the one thing the internet does not provide is human contact."
That's from an online retailer who sees the enormous staying power and opportunity in retail stores.
When you own your dominance, you find new ways to do more to bridge online and offline by looking at your customers’ frustrations.
I’m always shocked at the number of pet stores bemoaning how they lose dog food sales to online retailers. They don’t seem to understand that their customers don’t want to lug home a 30-pound bag every couple weeks. If they owned the role that their physical store could be their community’s source for pet food, then when pet owners came in to shop for something smaller, they could build on that opportunity and set up an auto-ship of dog food... and replace the online retailer.
To own the fact you are a physical store, lead with your strengths. Here’s how to start:
You offer curated variety so shopping doesn’t feel like work.
You offer immediate satisfaction so customers don’t have to wait for its arrival.
You offer a personal touch so they get what’s right for them, not just what’s on sale.
You feature displays that show how seemingly unrelated items work together.
You remove frustrations from shoppers’ lives in a human way online and chatbots simply can’t…
Build your own list to truly see all you offer that your online competitors do not.
Then you need to make a commitment to retail sales training and an effective retraining effort in your stores, or you will fall victim.
You’ll be a victim by ignoring what is your major strength, your physical store where people make connections.
What kind of retail world do you want to create for 2017, and what might your role in it be?
It’s time for brick and mortar retail stores to own up that they have what customers want.
From that place of strength they can discover new ways to do more to create an exceptional experience rather than a warehouse of stuff. And if you need help with how to do that remember, the Retail Doctor makes house calls.
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