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Retail tips: Five ways brick-and-mortar stores can survive

By Connor Freitas

Armed with the right retail tips and tricks, physical stores have the chance to compete with online retailers. Here’s how.

The retail world is an uncertain place at the best of times, but 2019 is proving exceptionally difficult. Online shopping, with Amazon leading the charge, continues to gain popularity – and footfall at malls is in decline. The list of big brands that have gone bust is growing ever longer and those that have survived are struggling to stay relevant. It’s a time of experimentation and desperation when it comes to brick-and-mortar businesses but there are retail tips out there that can inject vitality and innovation into the experience they offer to consumers.

Before we delve into the world of retail advice, let’s take a look at how physical retailers stack up when compared with e-commerce. It may feel like the Amazons and the eBays of the world have already established dominance – and it is true that their sales are enjoying double-digit growth year on year – but overall, their share of the market remains modest. As of August 2018, online accounted for 18.2 per cent of spending in the UK retail industry, a figure that’s perhaps lower than what many of us would have volunteered if asked to guess. This figure is even lower in the US, where e-commerce represented 9.8 per cent of total sales in the second quarter of 2018.

Certain goods, such as books, CDs, DVDs and games, are inevitably more popular online because they are often cheaper – and the shopper is confident that they will get a product that’s in line with their expectations. Things get murkier when it comes to groceries, clothes and furniture. Many shoppers want to see these items in person, using their senses to see whether a product is right for them. It’s hard to check if an avocado is ripe, a new dress fits or whether a sofa is comfortable through a webpage.

By relying on successful retail strategies, constantly innovating and fighting for every pound, dollar or euro of business, it is possible to thrive in physical retail space. This article explores some of the latest retail tips and tricks, and delves into research about what consumers want when they are shopping. By taking this intelligence on board, it’s possible to get an upper hand over e-commerce giants by offering unique selling points and an experience they’ll be unable to match.

Five retail tips and tricks to remember

1. Understand why customers prefer shopping in stores

Tapping into the psyche of your target audience and why they value a brick-and-mortar experience helps to adapt your business to amplify these benefits. As well as being able to physically interact with an item, many shoppers like how they can take home their purchase immediately, speak to a salesperson who knows what they’re talking about and avoid the inconvenience of sending unwanted products back through the mail. Many consumers also love going to a store with their friends and family.

Research by PwC delved into what consumers in Europe want most when they visit a store. While 18 per cent said quick and easy navigation was most important, 14 per cent wanted to meet staff who had a detailed knowledge of the products on offer, 11 per cent desired quick payment methods such as contactless payment and 8 per cent expected fast Wi-Fi that was easy to access.

2. Acknowledge why online shopping is popular

Here’s a nugget of retail advice that so many bankrupt brands failed to grasp: it’s OK to prioritise physical stores over having a website for sales but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an online presence at all. A startling number of consumers rely on Google searches and Facebook pages to find local businesses in their area – researching everything from opening hours to testimonials from past clients. One study suggests that 90 per cent of shoppers read online reviews before they visit a business for the first time.

Understanding the strengths of e-commerce – the ability to shop 24/7, the more competitive prices and the freedom to find products that are harder to track down on shop shelves – can also help position a business as a compelling alternative. By having a website that lists your product inventory and a physical store where shoppers can see each item for themselves, you get the best of both worlds.

3. Give customers an experience

Some of the best retail tips and tricks can be picked up by looking at what some of the world’s biggest brands are doing. Apple turned the status quo upside down by unboxing their products and putting them on display – enabling curious shoppers to get hands-on with iPods, iPhones and Macbooks. Staff are given personalised steps of service to walk through, ensuring that every shopper feels cared for. Products are paid for away from a cashier’s desk and classes and technical support are offered on sleek, long tables.

All of this ensures that the people who walk through the doors of one of Apple’s stores feels spoiled and almost like they aren’t in a store at all. It’s a concept that has spread like wildfire. The US clothing brand Nordstrom allows its customers to reserve dressing rooms, complete with the clothes they wish to try on. Meanwhile, the mattress brand Casper has opened stores complete with sleeping pods where visitors can catch a 45-minute nap and try out products.

4. Look at retailers who are in growth

Copying the most successful retail strategies play for play is a bad idea but there’s no reason why smaller businesses can’t borrow certain elements. Currently, most companies are closing down physical stores rather than opening new ones.

That said, there are retailers who are bucking the trend. Brands such as the discount grocer Aldi are opening hundreds of stores a year in Europe and the US – doing away with branded goods and giving their shoppers quality products from lesser-known producers. Dollar stores that sell low and stock high have also enjoyed booming popularity and, at least in America, they have enjoyed success by opening smaller outlets in low-income areas where larger supermarkets run by the likes of Walmart might lie several miles away.

5. Give something extra

One of the most powerful retail tips has remained true for hundreds of years: make sure you go above and beyond to give the customer everything they want – including the things they didn’t realise they needed. Look at Ikea, which sells flatpack furniture and then offers to get specialists to construct it in the shopper’s home for a small fee. Others are carving out a niche for themselves and delivering a specialised service. HMV, a British chain of music stores that has flirted with bankruptcy several times, has just gone through its latest reinvention – opening one of Europe’s biggest sites and hiring specialists who can share their in-depth knowledge with shoppers keen to piggyback on the vinyl revival. Loyalty schemes are often overlooked in the quest to retain customers, too – something that’s crucial if retailers are going to have staying power. Indeed, research suggests that boosting retention rates by as little as 5 per cent can increase profits by anywhere from 25 to 95 per cent.

FURTHER READING: Dead malls: Is this the end for shopping centres?

FURTHER READING: Global trade slowdown: have we reached the bottom yet?

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