There’s no question, online shopping has had an impact on the brick-and-mortar retail sector! While it is true that many of us have transitioned to online shopping for a lot of our daily necessities, there are reasons why brick-and-mortar stores will continue to exist. First, our need for instant gratification, and, second, our need to “touch” and “try” before we buy.
The truth of the matter is that, in today’s world, we can all pretty much get whatever we want when we want it. For our retail tenants, “instant gratification” will always tip the scales in their favor over online shopping! Additionally, while there certainly are a number of things we can and do order online, the truth is, there are also things most people won’t order online because they need to “touch/try” before buying.
It certainly is true that there are aspects of the retail sector which have been impacted by online shopping. I have seen old mom-and-pop bookstores and magazine shops close their doors because people can order books online and get their news on the internet. For retail tenants like these, sadly, I don’t know that there is a solution. For others, who are providing a service and selling a product, the key to remaining relevant and keeping customers walking through those doors is to provide more service!
One way tenants can provide better service is to offer car-side delivery. We saw this initially in restaurants, catering to mothers with small children who couldn’t get out of their car to run in and pick up a “to-go” order. Now, we are seeing it at grocery stores and other retail providers. One of my tenants, a dry cleaner, is providing car-side service for their customers. Payment is handled through a hand-held point-of-service application.
Another way retailers can improve service is to actually talk to their customers; I know, I know; it’s a novel concept! It seems so basic, but, unfortunately, communication as customer service is a dying art! I have, on more than one occasion, walked out of a store, where I might have purchased something because the clerk was too busy texting on her cell phone to be bothered to even acknowledge that I had walked into the store (and I was the only one in the store). Then, the exact opposite has happened; I have walked into cute little boutiques with no intention of purchasing anything, had a conversation with the clerk, who greeted me and made me feel welcome and important, and have ended up making a purchase—or lots of purchases!
Another option for some retailers is to have supplemental services offered through the store as a convenience to the customers. For example, I have a tenant who sells nutrition and exercise supplements, and, while they could just sell those protein shakes and vitamins, they take it a step further and also have a small table set up in the corner to offer personalized meal planning and off-site personal training sessions. One of the employees even owns a gym, so they offer memberships to the gym at a discounted rate for their customers. And, as to those supplements they are actually there to sell, they keep bottles behind the counter and make small shakes for people to try the flavor before they buy a large container. SERVICE is what keeps people coming back to that location!
Another way I am seeing retail providers increasing their sales numbers is to also have an online presence! It takes time, but one way to provide an additional service to your customers is to offer online shopping as well. I visited a cute Christmas store in Estes Park, Colorado, in July two years ago. They sell Christmas decorations all year long. It’s all they sell. Amazingly, they sell out of items in the middle of the summer! There were several items I wanted that were sold out, and they not only suggested I check their website occasionally, but, in addition to that, they took my contact information and e-mailed me when the item I wanted came back in stock! Talk about customer service!
So, yes, online shopping is definitely increasing in popularity, especially as we are all being asked to do more in a 24-hour day than ever before. However, human nature and our society’s need for instant gratification, as well as our need to “touch/try,” means that most brick-and-mortar retailers will continue to be successful—especially if they can provide a level of service their competitors are not providing!