There’s no doubt that over the last decade or so we’ve dramatically changed the way we shop. Bricks and mortar high street shops have been usurped in many ways by online stores with people buying on the go on their mobile devices fuelled by increasing access to shopping on a global scale.
It’s easy to believe that bricks and mortar stores have had their day. Why invest all that money in a high-street store when you can reach out to far more people online and sell just as many products? The doyen of online selling, Amazon, has recently started to invest in traditional selling, opening a real store in Seattle last November. While this is a lot easier for big corporations, the notion of delivering an omni-channel approach has not been lost on smaller companies.
So, what’s the best solution for your business?
In the end, it all comes down to cost and the return on investment that you will get from opening a bricks and mortar operation.
The Benefits of a Digital Presence
No one in business would dispute the power of having your own online store, engaging on social media and using digital marketing to promote your brand. It’s a very low-cost way to do business, after all, and flexible as well. You can start small, build up gradually without the massive overheads you generally get when running a real store such as rental costs, staff and utility bills. Add in the fact that you can reach a much wider audience with much less effort and you might be forgiven for thinking this is all you need.
For many businesses, including eCommerce entrepreneurs, it may be the right answer. At least for the moment.
The problem is, because it’s so easy, the online world is now extremely crowded. Competition is high and certain advertising such as pay per click (PPC) is becoming less attractive as the price rises for those profitable keywords. Many brands are starting to look at other ways to engage with customers and that means an omni-channel approach.
According to The Guardian:
“…for purveyors of tactile and personal products like clothing, eyewear and jewellery, selling stuff in person has an obvious appeal.”
The Future of Bricks and Mortar
Amazon’s store in Seattle isn’t just a one off. They’re testing the water to see how it works and, if it does, they’ll be opening more flagship stores around the US and perhaps in other parts of the world.
To succeed, of course, the store has to be economically successful on its own and attract customers from around the local area. But bricks and mortar can also act as a strong marketing tool for an already secure online provision. They can create greater awareness of the brand which adds value in a cluttered online marketplace and helps nurture customers to become loyal advocates and fans. To a smaller extent, it can attract those potential customers who don’t avail themselves of the online marketplace.
There is also the issue of people wanting to see and try products in person, which you can’t get online. While some bricks and mortar stores follow the traditional see and buy format, others are being developed as showrooms – you go, pick up and use a product, try on an outfit and then order it online. This works well for certain products, including jewellery. In America, Blue Nile opened up a showroom for their range and found local sales rose significantly once the store was opened.
For UK businesses, mixing digital with bricks and mortar has been easier for the businesses that grew out of traditional high street stores. Argos and Curry’s both offer the ability to shop online and pick up in store or vice versa. Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda allow similar provisions that improves their bottom lines.
For SMEs, the option to go bricks and mortar, of course, involves a serious cost question. Until you reach a certain size and your brand becomes recognisable, it often isn’t cost effective to open a store. For bigger companies, merging online and offline is becoming the way to build a seamless customer experience that really counts, particularly in the world of retail.
According to many experts, customers value flexibility and that means being able to use a particular brand or service how and when they want, whether that’s shopping instore locally, going online or even over the telephone. This holistic approach to your brand’s availability is not easy to achieve without a good deal of thought, integration and financial ability.
It is, however, the path that many large stores are now starting to tread and one which emerging businesses need to be aware of and try to fit into their future growth plans.