Customers want the ability to shop online and in person. It’s up to retailers to create integrated shopping experiences or risk being left behind.
If there is a key to retail success for brands in 2023 it is creating an integrated in-person and online sales experience. This may seem counterintuitive. After all, more than ever, business is digital. Retail Insider anticipates online sales in Canada will grow to $104 billion by 2025. While the rise of e-commerce is undeniable, it is also true that bricks-and-mortar retail stores aren’t going anywhere. Customers want the ability to shop online and in person. Retailers that don’t invest in creating a unified virtual and real-world shopping experience risk being left behind.
How did we get here? In 2020, COVID-19 and mandated lockdowns led consumers around the world to leave any concerns about online shopping behind. E-commerce was already taking hold, but it took off exponentially when people had to stay home. In Canada, it was reported that online sales soared 625 per cent in 2020, hitting a record $52.5 billion. Still, according to Statistics Canada this represented just 7.8 per cent of total retail sales.
The biggest players in Canada’s e-commerce market are also its largest bricks-and-mortar retailers: Walmart and Costco. They share online dominance with e-commerce juggernaut Amazon. Interestingly, as Walmart, Costco and retailers of all sizes added e-commerce capabilities through the pandemic, Amazon was investing in physical stores. It wasn’t alone. Google opened its first bricks-and-mortar retail store. At the same time, brands with a strong physical presence have been innovating. Best Buy opened dozens of aspirational experience stores to give shoppers the ability to learn about and use new technologies.
The message: Customers like the convenience of shopping online but they also still enjoy the ability to touch, see and test products before buying. This has resulted in a new click-and-mortar or clicks-and-bricks omnichannel business model that includes both an e-commerce site and physical store.
The benefits of integrating in-person and online sales
Sixty-three per cent of all shopping experiences start online, according to research from Think with Google. Google also reports that four in five consumers use search engines to find information about local physical stores and 50 per cent of these shoppers visit a store within a day. Nearly 80 per cent of mobile searches lead to offline purchases. Integrating in-person and online sales helps brands:
- Expand their reach;
- Improve the overall customer experience;
- Build brand awareness;
- Reduce marketing costs through combined online-offline marketing efforts; and
- Increase sales.
Four best practices to integrate in-person and online sales
1. Start small
If you have a bricks-and-mortar store and are just beginning your entry into e-commerce, you have a few options to get started: you can add an e-commerce plug-in to your existing website from providers such as WooCommerce; you can add a separate online store to your site through a platform such as Shopify; or you can start selling on Amazon or eBay. Begin by offering your top 20 per cent best-selling products. This will help you determine the right technology, inventory levels, logistics and marketing approach before you go big.
2. Know your buyers
Create research-based buyer personas for your ideal customers. These fictionalized versions of your target shoppers describe who they are, what they’re looking for, and their challenges and interests. Use this information to personalize the shopping experience, and all your marketing and advertising campaigns – online and off. This is important as 73 per cent of customers expect companies to understand their needs.
3. Combine your online and offline marketing efforts
Shoppers want a seamless shopping experience and that includes unified messaging and brand voice, and design across channels. Identify shared objectives, and develop and integrate omnichannel marketing campaigns designed to achieve these objectives. For example, to drive sales of a specific product, simultaneously market this product using digital and traditional marketing channels. Measure your efforts using custom tracking URLs. Cross-promote your marketing efforts by having traditional ads encouraging people to take part in social campaigns and social channels leading to in-person or sponsored media content and appearances. Encourage in-store customers to visit your digital properties and online shoppers to visit your physical store.
Tip: Implement unified marketing measurement to gain a clear holistic view of how individual users are interacting with online and offline marketing initiatives. This data-driven deep dive will help you hit the right mix of digital and traditional advertising and marketing, and drive results.
4. Connect your digital and physical stores and deliver great service
This is another way to ensure a seamless experience for shoppers. Digital and physical storefronts should have a shared aesthetic and reinforce your brand’s look and feel. This will help strengthen your brand recognition. Make sure you have the right systems and processes in place to deliver an excellent experience for customers, wherever they choose to shop. Even when shoppers are in your physical store, they’re likely using their phones to research products and compare prices. Creating an effective, easy-to-navigate website that’s optimized for mobile will help give shoppers the best of both worlds. Customers also like to review products online and then buy in person – this is called webrooming. Encourage this by building apps into your website that allow shoppers to test products digitally.
Fast fact: 88 per cent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as what it sells.
By going through each of the steps above to integrate your in-person and online sales presence, and systems and marketing efforts, you will be delivering exactly what modern shoppers want. That will allow you to compete effectively, expand your reach and grow sales.