The growth of online retail has gotten a lot of ink over the last few years, and rightfully so. Ecommerce is one of the fastest growing retail sectors in America. But it is important to remember that online sales only account for between 10% to 15% of the entire retail market. While online sales are trending up, brick and mortar businesses still control the largest part of the market.
In the past online retailers and their brick and mortar counterparts have been portrayed as adversaries. But ecommerce and traditional retail can, and should, be allies. By combining the best of both business models retailers are able to offer their customers a better shopping experience, and that translates to more sales and an increase in revenues.
Of course, what we’re talking about is ‘Click-and-Mortar’ retail, and it’s one of the fastest growing trends for small businesses.
What is Click-and-Mortar Retail?
Click-and-Mortar retail is the successful integration of a business’ online and off-line operations. Often referred to as bricks-and-clicks or omnichannel selling, this business model combines the convenience and efficiency of ecommerce sales with the service and hands-on shopping experience of traditional retail. Customers can shop online at the business’ website or in person at any one of the company’s real world locations.
Omnichannel selling is not necessarily a radical idea. Larger retailers, like Barnes and Noble and Walmart, have been using a form of Click-and-Mortar retail for years. Even Amazon, the ecommerce giant, is embracing a bricks-and-clicks business model with its Amazon Go storefronts. And as we all know where Amazon goes the rest of the ecommerce world follows.
But Click-and-Mortar retail is not just for ecommerce giants. Smaller businesses can also benefit from what omnichannel selling has to offer.
Omnichannel for Brick and Mortar
With the advent of ecommerce small business owners were encouraged to set up online stores where customers could browse their product lines, place orders, and have those purchases delivered straight to their doors. In short, the standard ecommerce business model. This gave brick and mortar retailers access to a larger pool of customers and offered companies an opportunity to increase their overall sales.
However, in most cases those online stores remained separate and distinct from the company’s real world operations. But what if we could bring some of the benefits of online sales (targeted marketing, increased product diversity, etc) into the brick and mortar business model? That’s what omnichannel selling accomplishes.
For example, brick and mortar retailers can easily integrate the ecommerce shopping model into their real world locations by offering in-store WiFi. People can browse in person and online while the retailer collects customer data that can be used to develop specialize product offers and targeted marketing campaigns that enhance the customer’s shopping experience. This benefits the customer as well as the retailer.
Bringing Digital into the Real World
It’s not just brick and mortar businesses that are turning to omnichannel selling to improve their overall performance. Online retailers are also finding that integrating their existing business models with real world locations can enhance their customers’ shopping experience and increase their overall sales.
While ecommerce has definitely made shopping quick and easy for millions of consumers there are still products that people want, and need, to experience in person before making a purchase. For instance, jewelry, clothing, and electronics have traditionally been difficult sales for online retailers. These are the types of products that customers want to handle before they buy. They want to test the fabric, check the size, and review the features of these items before they commit to a purchase.
For previously online only enterprises a real world storefront offers a testing ground for customers who want a hands-on experience with the products they are interested in buying. They may ultimately complete the purchase online, but the customer commits in the shop.
The Bottom Line Benefits of Click-and-Mortar Retail
The combination of online sales strategies with the traditional brick and mortar shopping experience offers some very real benefits for the independent retailer:
- Reduced Operating Costs – Small business owners who operate brick and mortar establishments need to maintain a larger staff to serve their customers. Switching to a click-and-mortar business model allows business owners to automate many customer service functions thereby reducing labor costs. Inventory costs can also be minimized by incorporating drop-shipping into the business’ online and on location retail divisions.
- Improved Customer Service – Many customers still prefer the hands-on experience of shopping in a brick and mortar retail environment. Click-and-Mortar offers the best of both worlds, with customers enjoying the convenience of shopping online with the face to face customer service that is only available in real world storefronts.
- Improved Consumer Confidence – As popular as online shopping has become, it’s still difficult for new ecommerce sites to build and retain the trust of consumers. It’s easier for click-and-mortar retailers to build trust among consumers because there’s a physical location for customers to try out products or return damaged merchandise.
- Targeted Customer Services – Selling products online gives brick and mortar businesses access to valuable consumer data which can be used to develop loyalty and reward programs for repeat shoppers and to offer discounts or direct offers to preferred customers.
- Greater Market Access – Operating both online and in a physical location helps to broaden your business’ access to new customers. Your online presence can be used to drive traffic to your brick and mortar shops, while allowing customers to browse and purchase items 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Having both an online presence and a real world shopfront also gives your customers greater flexibility when it comes to purchasing items and accessing after-sale customer services.
Digital and Real World Strategies Working Hand in Hand
Omnichannel selling can mark the difference between a thriving retail business and one that is forever lagging behind its competitors. Consumer demands are ever changing, and retailers need to respond to those changes if they are going to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The future of retail belongs to those businesses that can effectively straddle the divide between digital only commerce and traditional brick and mortar retail. By combining the best of both worlds Click-and-Mortar retail will help shape the future of the American shopping experience.