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    Expert Column: Back to Brick-and-mortar Shopping

    A checklist for how stores can retain customers

    By Rich Scamehorn, InContext

    By Rich Scamehorn

    Each year, online shopping becomes more prevalent in the retail industry. In fact, according to Forrester Research, e-commerce is expected to generate $291 billion in 2014 alone.

    With significant strides being made online, many are left wondering what will happen to our beloved brick-and-mortar storefronts. First, we must consider that although online shopping is convenient, it doesn't come without its downsides. Most notably, online shoppers must deal with shipping costs and times, the lack of personal experience, and not being able to examine items in real life. Similarly, shoppers are becoming more environmentally aware, with growing concerns related to local efforts and saving energy costs. Why pay to have an online store deliver groceries when your local store carries the exact same product?

    If retailers want to stay relevant and maintain vibrant storefronts, they must streamline stores and aisles and remain as modern as possible. Here are a few ways to help:

    • Use Virtual Store Research: Virtual store research allows retailers and manufacturers to test the effectiveness of advertising, POP displays, and aisle and product placement before implementing them in the store. InContext Solutions offers web-based software that allows businesses to quickly and accurately design new in-store concepts and test-drive them with online shoppers. Virtual store research helps ensure store concepts are optimal for securing in-store sales.
    • Instant Marketing: Companies such as Nomi are employing cloud service and Wi-Fi signals to track and engage shoppers, who are either in the store or vicinity. Nomi's technology allows retailers to gather customer data and measure brand loyalty. Retailers can use the data to analyze if they’re effectively managing foot traffic and their specific customer draw rate.
    • Engage Customers: Beyond technology, it's important to connect with customers. Stores can hold events hosted by bloggers or sponsored by a local restaurant to draw customers to stores. Consider holding hold small cooking demonstrations where retailers can then share new products, seasonal events and update customers on their latest happenings.
    • Find Ways to Create a Memorable Shopping Experience: As most grocers are selling most of the same national brands or similar products, it's increasingly important to do things in the retail space to make the shopping experience more interesting and memorable. Consider arranging the products in a new way that differs from your competitors, adding regional or private label products to provide alternative and locally sourced products, or finding complimentary services that differentiate you from your competition. It's critical to stand out from the crowd if you hope to drive greater traffic in your stores.
    • Experiment: Find ways to make shopping at your store a better experience. Experiment with trying one new idea each week or month to see if your customers notice and are positively affected. Put out a suggestion box or offer a coupon for filling out a quick survey to find out where your customers would most like to see improvement.
    • Emphasize Humanity: Online stores can never replace the pleasantries associated with human interaction. Make sure your in-store atmosphere is friendly, welcoming and offers a personal connection for each shopper. The staff should be pleasant and well versed in the store layout and product offerings. Encourage employees to take customer service to the next level every time.

    While online shopping is gaining steam, there's truly no replacement for the experience shoppers receive in brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    By Rich Scamehorn, InContext
    • About Rich Scamehorn Rich Scamehorn co-founded InContext Solutions in 2009 and has been the company’s chief research officer since its inception. With more than 20 years of market research experience, he’s widely considered one of the world’s leading authorities on virtual store research. Before co-founding InContext, Scamehorn led virtual-store and controlled-store testing at General Mills.

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