Because e-commerce has become so critical to retailers’ success, brick-and-mortar retailers are challenged to create a seamless shopping experience for customers both online and in-store. When stores unify online and offline retail, they allow shoppers to find what they need and purchase it anytime, anywhere using both digital and in-store tools.
But unification is truly a challenge, and many brick-and-mortar stores have yet to achieve a seamless shopping experience. Commonly known as omni-channel shopping, a unified retail experience essentially blends together online and offline shopping channels into a seamless customer experience. How can you blend these two worlds together for your customers?
1. Get Your Technology Together
Integrating your back-end systems is the most important step to take when creating an omni-channel shopping experience. Both your physical store and your e-commerce store need to share data and function in tandem. Inventory stock is just one example of the many aspects of retail that need to be synced.
Generally, the back-end unification challenge is in syncing your e-commerce content management system with your in-store point-of-sale (POS) system. Consequently, the secret to starting off unification right is to invest in one system that integrates everything for you.
There are many factors to consider when choosing an integrated system, but the number of unique product SKUs you have in your inventory is a great starting point for your research.
Smaller retailers with small catalogs can take advantage of the latest do-it-yourself platforms that combine your e-commerce website and inventory with a physical point of sale system. The Shopify POS system, for example, gives small and medium-sized brick-and-mortar retailers everything they need to create a seamless shopping experience. Shopify integrates every major aspect of modern retail by providing inventory management, a DIY online store creator, built-in payment processing, analytics and a complete physical POS system that syncs with all these online tools.
2. Enhance the In-Store Experience
Shoppers are increasingly accustomed to the benefits of online shopping. When shopping online, you can read product reviews, use mobile payment services (like PayPal), choose the perfect size or color, and share recent purchases (or gift ideas) through social networks.
It's getting harder for brick-and-mortar stores to compete with these benefits, but in-store shopping has its advantages, too. You can interact with the products. See home decor. Touch a blanket. Smell perfume. Hear the stereo. Taste the food. Try out the computer. Try on the shirt. These personal interactions can lead shoppers to buy more when shopping in-store, rather than online. That’s usually one of the key drivers behind unification efforts.
If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer, in-store shoppers are incredibly valuable. You just have to get them to come in. This is accomplished by introducing online shopping perks to in-store shoppers, such as:
- Allowing customers to pick up online orders from your brick-and-mortar location.
- Accepting mobile payments through your in-store POS system.
- Creating an app that lets shoppers scan product bar codes to read online reviews.
- Offering in-store access to your online catalog.
- Providing free Wi-Fi.
3. Combine Online & Offline Marketing
Implementing omni-channel shopping opportunities isn’t quite enough to leverage unification for your retail business. Your customers need to know about these opportunities, and marketing efforts need to reflect your overall unification. Some ways to blend online and offline marketing include:
- Advertising your digital in-store enhancements to online shoppers.
- Promoting social contests in your physical locations.
- Creating Facebook event pages for in-store events and sales.
- Using geolocation targeting to send mobile offers to nearby potential customers.
Unifying online and offline retail takes investment and long-term dedication, but if you follow these three fundamental guidelines—starting with the right back-end systems, and building from there—you'll find success.
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