2020 saw a curve ball that no retailers was expecting. Life was good. Retailers were coming off of a successful 4th quarter and enjoying a profitable 1st quarter driven by gift in store visits from gift card receivers.
Then in February, things began to change for non-grocery retailers. Enter March and it was a freefall in in-store sales.
The freefall was first brought on by the shutdown of non-essential businesses. A lot of local retailers were deemed non-essential by their local governments, while big box stores were allowed to stay open.
Once retail locations began opening their doors, they were met with less foot traffic from crowd weary shoppers, and a consumer base with less disposable income.
According to the CRBE, retail sales have grown at 3.1% over the year. But that number is dwarfed by the fact that Ecommerce growth exceeded 16%.
Source: US Census Bureau
In-store retail sales did make a V shaped recovery, but non-store (Ecommerce sales) didn’t need to make a V shaped recovery to begin with. Not only was there no disruption in sales, sales actually skyrocketed during the pandemic.
The consumer isn’t spending less money, they are simply spending their money in new ways. Many consumers learned that they could get the same products they buy in the store online, delivered directly to their doorstep.
In fact, the National Retail Federation reports that 42% of Baby Boomers now shop online. This consumer has traditionally been a shop in-store consumer, but the pandemic changed their behaviors.
With a change in consumer habits and uncertainty about future lockdowns, how can local retailers not only survive, but excel in this new economic climate?
Embrace Digital Sales – Go Hybrid
The clear answer to survival is “Embrace ecommerce.” That doesn’t mean it is easy. The consumer has shifted their spending habits to a new medium. It’s time for retailers to shift their thinking and embrace this new medium.
A note before proceeding: Imagine if this pandemic would have occurred 10 years ago, before consumers had embraced widespread online shopping channels before retailers had widespread access to inexpensive shopping cart technology. There would be no recourse for retailers other than to go out of business.
Retailers are actually very lucky the pandemic hit during a time when shoppers were already trained to buy online and technology exists to have retailers selling online within days. Embrace this gift.
There are two types of retailers reading this article: Those with one location and those with multiple locations. The methods discussed work for either of these types of businesses. If you have multiple locations, perform these tactics for each location.
What does Go Hybrid Mean?
We currently think of our brick and mortar retail stores as storefronts. They have always been much more than that. Retailers must think outside the scope of 4-wall sales. Not only is the retail location a storefront, it is also a warehouse.
Restaurants are split between front of the house and back of the house. Retail stores are the same way. The front of the house is the merchandising, customer service and P.O.S. The back of the house is shipping, receiving, and warehousing.
Retailers can use this back of the house space to initiate sales within digital channels and to cater to emerging shopping behaviors.
Let Your Customers Know you are Open
Shoppers may not jump in their car and rush to the store like they used to. In fact, shoppers don’t really know who is open and if hours have been impacted. What do they do? They use Google.
Every retailer, if they have not yet, should go claim their Google My Business account right now. This is the portal to get your store information to your customers.
Set Special Hours
Once claimed, it is easy to set store hours within GMB. Google has given retailers the ability to set “special hours” if needed. https://support.google.com/business/answer/6303076
Let Shoppers Know your Health and Safety Procedures
Offer Curbside Pickup
Remove the fear of crowds from your shoppers by offering curbside pickup or delivery. Delivery is difficult for retailers, but curbside delivery is an option that can easily be run out of the back of the house.
Setup reserved parking for pickup orders, and mark those parking spaces with visible signage. As customers drive past or visit your location, they will know you offer a non-contact form of shopping. Getting your customers aware of this feature could prove very beneficial in the future if unforeseen shutdowns occur. Your customers will already know you offer order fulfillment.
Advertise the curbside feature on Google.
Let Customers Know When They can Shop
At certain points in the future, in-store shopping might not be possible. Perhaps your store is closed due to shutdowns or for cleaning protocols. When this happens, let your customers know within Google your customers will see a Green checkmark if shopping is allowed in store, and a red X if shopping is not allowed in store.
Ecommerce Marketing for Retailers
To go fully hybrid, adoption of ecommerce is a must. This starts with an online shopping cart.
There are a lot of online shopping carts to choose from. The easiest is Shopify. Shopify offers a CMS, shopping cart and payment processor all in one. A retailer can literally be up and running, accepting orders within a couple of days.
NCR is a very popular POS among retailers. NCR offers integration, including inventory listing and management through a shopping cart called Magento. Magento is robust, and combined with in-store POS makes a powerful tool merging offline and online sales.
Once online and offline sales are merged, a new form of marketing emerges – Retargeting. Retailers are all too familiar with the costs associated with advertising. With online advertising, costs can be managed and understood.
Remarketing allows retailers the ability to reconnect with customers who did not purchase, and with customers who did purchase. Email marketing, PPC and social PPC are all ways to increase lifetime value of customers at much lower costs per acquisition.
Going National, Locally
The back of the house offers expansion opportunities that do not exist within the 4 walls of the front of the house. Your warehouse is no different than Amazon’s warehouses. Your suppliers are no different than Amazon’s suppliers.
Your current shipping/receiving and warehouse in the back of your retail storefront already exists. Its time to maximize the profitability of this footprint.
Knowing your Customer
You likely know the behaviors of your target market. You know how they think, what they like to do, where they like to shop, where they travel. Knowing your customer behavior helps you to engage those same customers in areas outside your local community. Not only that, you know how to speak to consumers within your local area as well.
This gives you a creative device. The internet is great for getting your message in front of people who are interested in hearing it. We call this content marketing in the ecommerce marketing world.
Look at this example from REI. REI has stores across the country. They also have a national presence through their ecommerce platform. They can basically sell worldwide from any storefront. This is what you as a local retailer can also do.
REI is creating localized content.
Why? They do this to attract rankings from people who are living in New York or who are looking to travel to New York for a hiking adventure.
How does this work? People who are looking to go hiking in New York will likely do research before going. This content is created to assist the hiker. The hiker finds the content, and is now brand aware of REI. They are now likely to purchase hiking gear from REI.
Here is a look at some of the keywords this page ranks for:
This page is generating traffic directly from a target market who is need of hiking gear.
This is easily duplicable for any local retailer. It doesn’t take a $1,000 per hour writer. It just takes 2-3 hours to write a piece of content and publish it on your site. Suddenly, you are appealing to your customer base with informative content. You are now the expert locally and nationally.
Let’s say you have a clear target audience in your local area. You also know that the same target audience exists in another city similar to yours. To get content in front of consumers in that city, create a piece of content around your niche in that city.
Google Shopping for Retailers
Google shopping is actually free as of this writing. You upload a product feed to Google and your items are listed for sales on the shopping tab of Google.
This is great way to expand nationally. The feed to Google will contain product information, inventory levels and pricing information. All is set up through Google Merchant Center.
To take this a step further, you can create a “local” inventory feed. This feed will display products that are local to consumers in your area who are shopping on Google for the products you carry. If you have multiple locations, you can (and should) setup a local feed for each location.
This is great hybrid approach to targeting your local area and going nationally, all with no cost.
As a consumer looking for soap, I see that there are stores local to me that have the product in stock. I can order online from these stores and have it delivered or use curbside pickup.
Embrace Social Media
Your target audience is active on Facebook every day. It’s just a fact. If you are not present, sharing your message, then you are dead to your audience while your competition swoons them.
If you have a single store, social media is easy. Simply create content that engages your local community. Share stories about your store. Profile employees. Spotlight a new vendor. Highlight charity work. There are infinite possibilities for social media posts that will get likes, shares and comments from your shoppers.
By being active and visible, your retail brand stands out in their mind, and they are more apt to shop local versus buy on Amazon.
If you have multiple locations, run each location as a separate social media entity. This is a look into Fleet Feet’s social presence on Facebook. Each store in each community has its own personality and content.
Your shoppers are changing the way they shop. Your competitors are changing the way they do business. It’s important to begin transitioning to Ecommerce as soon as possible. It’s easy to get started and doesn’t cost a fortune.
The methods of ecommerce and hybrid storefront presented in this article are all free or very inexpensive (Shopify is like $30 a month). This takes away any excuse to get started. Increase local sales and branch out nationally and take advantage of new consumer behaviors.