As huge chains like Sears and Toys “R” Us become vacant retail relics, there’s been considerable speculation about the death of physical retail. Despite these recent changes to the retail landscape, however, in-store sales still have the potential to flourish in the digital age (as many “digital first” brands are proving). The brands that succeed today are those that use eCommerce to enhance their physical store experience, and vice versa. We’ve laid out five ways to use eCommerce marketing strategies to boost your brick-and-mortar sales.
1. Maximize Product Education and Storytelling
In addition to driving eCommerce conversions, creating helpful and compelling online content will also drive in-store sales. In fact, a recent study on the ROBO economy (Research Online, Buy Offline) found that 45 percent of in-store shoppers consulted online reviews—often via a smartphone—before making a purchase.
To ensure that all your online content is working double-duty for your brand, optimize blog posts, site pages, and product listings for mobile viewership. Shoppers don’t want to do too much reading while standing in front of a shelf full of tomato sauce trying to determine which option is compatible with their diet. In instances like these, images and videos work wonders at conveying information in succinct way.
Along with following mobile SEO optimization best practices, make sure the content itself is clear, concise, and easy to scan for key points. Doing so will make it easier for smartphone users to find the information they need while in store and will improve your content's organic Google search ranking. To optimize your listings on eCommerce marketplaces like Amazon, keep the copy tight and focused on your brand’s key differentiators. Don’t “sell the category” — sell your brand instead!
2. Make the Most of Ratings / Social Proof
Before making an in-store purchase, 82 percent of smartphone users will use their trusty device to browse product specs and read customer reviews. There are many ways you can accelerate your accumulation of product reviews — we’ve covered some of them in this article about review generation tactics. Whether they’re good, bad, or ugly, make sure that you answer all product reviews and questions to show consumers that you care. This can make all the difference both online and in physical stores.
Got great online reviews? Highlight them for in-store shoppers through interactive displays or well-placed signs. Amazon has just built a new “4-Star” store around this concept in NYC.
Do you have a product display for a top-rated item at Kroger? Make sure the shopper knows how good the product is by putting five stars on the pallet or endcap along with the words, “Top Rated” (check with your Legal team to ensure you’ve got appropriate sourcing citations).
3. Test Market Online Before Investing in Physical Retail
Launching a new product in brick-and-mortar stores is both expensive and risky. For starters, the upfront cost of stocking every store and distribution center around the country with inventory can quickly add up (both for you and the retailer). On top of that, there’s the possibility that your unproven product won’t sell and will need to be shipped back or liquidated.
Launching your new product online first is a great way to mitigate these risks. Online, you have the luxury of taking a phased approach, or rolling out the item to a single eCommerce channel and a few distribution centers before pursuing broader distribution. If the product doesn’t catch on immediately, it’s much easier and less expensive to make adjustments to your eCommerce offering than it is to recall and relaunch in-store inventory. In addition, eCommerce offers very robust consumer feedback through ratings and reviews along with additional insights from A/B testing, pricing optimization, and other analytical tools.
4. Speed up Trial Generation Online
When it comes to getting people to sample a new product, eCommerce opens up a whole new world of opportunities. Among other tools, brands can benefit from social media promotion, online incentives, and eCommerce giveaways. As an added benefit, these online executions are much more “controlled” than most in-store executions.
Let’s say you want shoppers to try your newest coffee creamer flavor. Offering a free sample or discount code in the box with the online purchase of another tried-and-true flavor is a good way to get that (still unproven) product in front of a highly targeted audience. Want to try something a bit different? Get an influencer to help drive your sampling event.
Compare the advanced targeting capabilities of eCommerce tools (like Amazon DSP’s behavioral ad campaigns) to the scattershot nature of traditional in-store product demos, and it’s easy to see why eCommerce is a quick and cost-effective way to gain market traction. As an added bonus, you can usually end your program almost instantly once your objectives have been met!
5. Use Expanded Assortment to Drive More Sales
The biggest constraint in the physical retail environment is space. Space must be used efficiently in order to maximize return, so the vast majority of in-store space is dedicated to housing the product. For years, marketers have pushed to get more signs, video display units, and human “consultants” into the aisles, but these strategies are difficult to sell to retail executives and have remained the exception to the rule.
Online, there are no shelf-space constraints. Because of this, brands can can also go as deep as they’d like in explaining the product, telling their brand story, and even entertaining the shopper. They can also offer a variety of color options, accessories, and add ons without worrying about limited shelf space.
Rather than storing every model and color of your coffee maker in Walmart stores, for example, you can limit your in-store inventory to a few top-selling items and offer a wider variety of options online (with in-store signage directing the shopper to these additional options). Walmart’s “endless aisle” kiosks are an interesting and engaging approach to this strategy.
Does your product have a cleaning kit option with a relatively low sales velocity? It may not make the cut for in-store shelves, but it could be a good online-only item. By housing the majority of your options in a few eCommerce fulfillment centers, you’ll cut overhead costs associated with stocking thousands of shelves and save that space for your fastest moving items (and maybe some at-shelf educational resources).
For more insider tips to get more out of your eCommerce marketing efforts, check out our latest e-book below.