An in-store experience can be like visiting your favorite happy-place.  It can promote retail therapy or perhaps the impulsive thrill of a shopping spree.  Touch and feel tactile products.  Try them on.  Examine their features.  – All in a room with great décor and lighting, possibly nice music and instant customer service.

The Problem:

Yes, online shopping is on the rise as buying online has never been easier or more accessible; not to mention the abundance of write-ups out there that tell of a brick-and-mortar-less future.  Everyone is to heed to the inevitable growth of online shopping and prepare to shut the doors unless the doors are virtual.  In a recent article by Linda Nguyen of the Canadian Press via The Toronto Star, she cited that in 2016, Canadians averaged more than $44 billion in retail sales every month with e-commerce sales accounting for about 2 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. While online sales make up a small percentage of total purchases, it’s increasing at a rate of 15 per cent YoY compared with a 3-percent increase in brick-and-mortar sales, according to retail industry expert Doug Stephens.

Well, there is another side to the coin. – There is proof out there that the local brick and mortar’s future is far from doom and gloom.

Read more: You may like one of our last blog posts Enough Fluff. – It’s time to sell and take it to the bank!

The Opportunity:

According to a Retail Dive’s consumer survey, published in February 2017, 62% of consumers still want the old fashion touching and trying on of items, 49% like the taking-home-immediately aspect of in-store shopping, 20% feel they can return the items more easily and 18% enjoy the in-store experiences.  The first statistic of 62% may help brick and mortar businesses breathe a slight sigh of relief, knowing that most people still prefer going into a store, but the fact that only 18% enjoy in-store experiences, is where the gold lies.  Yes, it’s only 18%.  That’s where opportunity knocks for retailers to use digital technology to create the ultimate customer happy-place that merges technology with a traditional storefront to create a connected experience for their customers and thus raising that 18% to much, much higher.

A local retailer may not be able to compete with the Zaras and H&M’s of the world on pricing, but they can provide a more personalized experience through personal customer recognition, providing informed recommendations and making customers feel welcome – a simple smile and ‘hello.’ A recent study on independent retailers by LoyaltyOne and the Retail Council of Canada found that 68% of customers surveyed would rather shop at a local store (than a large retailer) that personalized products and services, if the price is slightly higher.

Where to start..

Think of this. 73% of all Canadians own a smartphone. (CRTC, Communications Monitoring Report, 2016), which is the keystone to creating an immersive environment. By linking mobile technology with brick and mortar stores, retailers can start building the most vital element to every retail business that exists today: The customer database.  Retailers are starting to turn their stores into a list-building technology by connecting to online channels and funneling valuable customer information into their databases. This information can be used for data analysis and setting up preferences in order to provide truly personalized service for customers. To succeed in a personalized world, brick and mortar retailers need to spend more time getting to Know Thy Customer.

The Future:

Once you have this information, there are limitless possibilities to what you can do to improve your customer’s experience – predictive analytics (trends and pricing), customer segmentation, real-time push notification to the right customer at the right time, and more. Imagine if you were able to identify the customer walking into your store by name, their past purchase history and predictive product recommendations before you even said ‘hi.’

Although bigger-ticket retail stores have more readily embraced digital technology thus far, small to medium businesses will equally benefit from maximizing the customer experience in and out of the store.  It is in essence, creating the ultimate customer happy-place when a customer can be catered to, before, during and after having walked into the store.

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