Ironically, digital will save brick-and-mortar retail.

by Flannery Jefferson

Its undeniable that digital has become an essential component of the shopping journey.

Consider the way we use digital devices — before and during a shopping trip. We go on Pintrest to find ideas, Amazon to check out product reviews and compare prices, Yelp to find a good store. Often, by the time we set foot in an actual store, we’ve already decided what to buy.

It certainly presents a challenge for retailers who are getting left out of the online decision-making moments.

But it also means there’s a huge opportunity for retailers to support their bricks-and-mortar by using digital in creative ways.

1. Creating inspiration

Websites are a powerful storytelling medium. When it comes to commerce, its a way to spark people’s imaginations — what will a product allow them to do? What kind of lifestyle will it create?

Websites allow retailers to showcase products as a part of a complete context or lifestyle.

If you’re selling an armchair, you can show the dream living room it creates. If you’re selling shoes, you show the outfit that could go with it. This helps people imagine how a product could fit into their lives.

Second, digital allow people to customize their browsing experience according to personal taste. Every shopping choice is an exploration of the question “What kind of person am I?”. You can give people the chance to discover themselves by making choices on your site.

For example, Mercier Flooring lets people browse by choosing a collection that matches their personal taste. Are you “Sophisticated & Trendy” or “Pure & Natural”? Are you Classic or Contemporary?

These tactics encourage website visitors to explore much more than just the product they came for.

2. Product Information

People spend a significant amount of time researching a product online before they commit to a purchase. Digital allows retailers to be involved in this part of the decision-making process.

Including product reviews, comparisons or in-depth profiles of products helps retailers play a bigger role in the key moments of the shopping journey.

Providing product information not only attracts customers, it also increases the amount customers spend. Shoppers who’ve researched product choices extensively tend to buy more, or choose a more expensive option.

3. Social Media Integration

Shoppers who use social media are:

  • 29% more likely to make a purchase the same day.
  • 4x more likely to spend more on the purchase.

(Data from Deloitte Digital)

Websites allow retailers to start and participate in discussions around their company by allowing people to tweet and post directly from the site.

Starting third party conversations around products is a great marketing strategy because messages from individuals will always be deemed more trustworthy than those associated with a brand.

4. Content Creation

Many people who come to browse are not be ready to commit to a purchase. But these visitors are still worth hanging on to, however, because they can become loyal customers over a longer period of time.

So how do you keep these people involved with a brand without directly selling to them?

The answer is — by being an expert. Customers recognize the value of experience and know-how in a specific sector. Websites give retailers the chance to publish content that gives them credibility and visibility.

And while their opinion on a specific product might be suspected of having a commercial incentive, customers tend to trust opinions that are given on the industry as a whole.

5. Showcasing Alternatives and Complements

Digital offers a unique opportunity for retailers to target customers who have already expressed an interest in a specific product.

If a customer finds that one product is not exactly right, a website allows other similar alternatives to be seamlessly presented to them.

As well as providing suitable alternatives, each product can linked to items which might complement that purchase. For example, if someone is looking at a printer, chances are they will also need to buy ink cartridges.

Expanding online offerings with these features is not a way of replacing in-store transactions. Rather, it’s a chance for retailers to enrich the brick-and-mortar shopping trip with more enjoyable and convenient experiences.

Now that digital sources influence more than half of all in-store purchases, retailers can no longer ignore the need to invest in a website.