Is ecommerce the enemy of high street business? Despite fears that online shopping will kill bricks and mortar businesses, for the smartest SMEs integration between the two offers a way to get ahead of the competition.
Some of the most recognisable high street names are already knitting ecommerce tactics into their business strategies. Electronics specialist Maplin are planning on increasing the interconnection between their online and offline offerings, including a live video tutorial option to help customers make the most of their products once they’ve got them home.
Even Mothercare, who are currently trying to turn their business around to avoid insolvency, are counting on developing their digital presence to return to profitability. The beleaguered chain hopes that the combination of a sophisticated ecommerce platform with a streamlined, modernised set of stores and an increased range of premium products will allow them to move out of crisis and into global success.
Those operating on a slightly smaller budget than Maplin or Mothercare can still leverage some of the ecommerce strategies used by retail giants to drive customers to stores and keep them engaged once they’ve left, so that they think of the business first next time.
Most of us have experienced the frustration of getting a new purchase home only to realise that using it isn’t as easy as first thought.
Retailers should consider providing more informative content for customers to improve the customer experience. Maplin are currently using a similar strategy on their YouTube channel, creating short videos which show how their products work, demonstrating all their features.
This is proving to be so popular with their customers that they are planning on expanding this to include user-generated content, giving customers the chance to create and submit their own video reviews of their favourite products.
These sorts of activities don’t need to be expensive. Good results can now be achieved with a smartphone and some basic editing software. Amateurs can learn from experts online to get more from their shoots.
Identifying the needs and interests of customers through real world and social media discussions can help inform this video strategy.
Supportive lifestyle content
One struggle for many businesses is keeping customers engaged between visits. Even if someone had a positive experience the last time they came into a shop, café or restaurant, if there is no strategy to keep in touch with them after they exit the door they could easily forget to return.
Providing interesting, useful content through social profiles, newsletter and website can bridge this gap. It doesn’t need to all about products either – in fact, this is one area where the focus should be on interest rather than selling.
Have a look at what retail giants and feisty independents are doing for some initial inspiration. British supermarkets are competing with each other to offer the best recipe and culinary how-to resources on their websites and in their magazines. Topshop offers simple guides on how to wear this season’s statement pieces and independent Liverpudlian men’s clothes shop Weavers Doors talks about the city’s best nights out on their blog.
Get customers involved
One of the biggest advantages bricks and mortar stores have over e-commerce sites is the potential for genuine interaction between staff and customers. This can create the type of interpersonal relationships that keep customers coming back. They can also provide valuable insight into what customers think about a brand, product or service and how they can be improved.
Using some of the strategies leveraged by big e-commerce sites to increase customer involvement can offer high street businesses a two-fold advantage.
US online clothes retailer Modcloth doesn’t just ask its customers to submit photos of themselves in their purchases and run competitions to name new clothing items. They even let customers vote on whether certain products should be stocked or not, on their Be the Buyer page.
High street businesses could consider asking customers to vote on specials, pick a new season product or for feedback on which new features or services they would like to see. Giving customers a chance to contribute shows that businesses are interested in their needs and want to become part of their community.
Multi-million pound budgets or top-of-the-range websites are not required to run with these strategies, and doing so could make a significant difference to a business’s bottom line.
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