Many small-business retailers include e-commerce in their business models, especially since more and more people do the bulk of their shopping online. However, many retailers struggle with how to unify the two experiences—online and in-store.
Though some products and promotions are naturally better for one experience over the other, the key often lies with creating a strategy that marries the two together.
Unify Your Technology
Creating a unified experience for your customers often calls for business leaders to stop thinking about the physical store and the e-commerce site as separate entities. If you use the same technology and software in all aspects of your business, it's usually easier for you to think of them as one unit, which can help your customers have a more cohesive experience. Your physical location and e-commerce site would likely benefit from sharing data, and a point-of-service (POS) system can help you do that.
A good POS system typically provides inventory management for physical and e-commerce stores. More extensive systems can include built-in payment processing, analytics and a user-friendly way to manage online processes. In addition, a POS system should allow customers to create accounts for your business, either in-store or online. These accounts should sync data from both physical purchases and e-commerce purchases, allowing for more effective and targeted advertising.
Attract Business to Your Brick-and-Mortar Store
The success of e-commerce is often dependent on convenience—consumers can get whatever they want delivered right to their homes without having to do much more than type in their credit card number. With so much right at their fingertips, what would motivate them to visit your physical store?
Many customers prefer the in-person shopping experience. Many consumers like to touch a product before buying it, see the quality for themselves and talk to the business owner or store clerks about the products. So don't be discouraged by big box, fast-shipping e-commerce sites that sell everything under the sun. For customers who prefer to shop in store, a picture on a screen may not create an impulse to buy the way that seeing and touching the product in person can.
And this is what helps keep physical stores relevant in an online world. To help attract customers to your physical location, you might consider using your blog to discuss events, promotions and products available exclusively in stores to get people to come in and shop.
Mix and Match Your Marketing Strategies
Lots of businesses rely solely on digital marketing because it can be highly effective, especially when you're targeting existing customers. But the best marketing strategies often employ both online and offline techniques to maximize profits. Patrons at a store could be informed about digital offers—and vice versa. Consider creating some offers that are available exclusively online and others that can be used only in person. For instance, contests and promotions can be created in different forms for your physical and e-commerce stores. Offering two sets of offers helps encourage customers to patronize your business in all its guises.
Using geolocation strategies, you can also send offers via mobile to nearby customers. And when you’re getting the word out about physical events, such as a grand opening, don’t neglect social media. Many consumers get all their information about upcoming events from Facebook or Twitter.
Search for New Techniques
Marketing and business strategies often rely on originality. Don’t allow your competitors to set the terms for your line of business. Always looking for new ways to market your store is good practice, as well as looking for ways to create a more streamlined shopping experience.
The business world is perpetually changing. By unifying your physical store and your e-commerce operation, you can help your company keep up with change, maximize sales and stay relevant in today’s faster-paced retail environment.
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This article was originally published on December 24, 2014.