The Virtual Reality

Online retailing is increasingly the business model of choice for small business owners and there are some great benefits; low overheads, no long term shop rental commitments, no store to clean, fewer staff to manage, simplified logistics and so on. However, as we continue to lose the traditional shopfront we are also losing a critical touchpoint to inspire, excite and engage with our all-important customers.

So can we have the best of both worlds? Can we keep that personal customer experience without the overheads of a traditional bricks and mortar store? And with more than 93% of retail sales still occurring offline and customers spending up to 6 times more offline, can we afford to miss out on the opportunity that physical retailing presents?

Engaging customers in the real world needn’t mean opening a full time retail store. Options such as markets, warehouse sales, pop-up shops, kiosks, shared spaces and exhibitions are effective physical channels that allow flexibility, high exposure, and lower long term investment or commitment. In these tactile environments, we can inspire our customers with our product, highlight new styling ideas and build a personal relationship and rapport without a screen to intervene.

Here are our top 10 tips to consider when planning the move from an online to a physical retail presence.

  1. Understand your target market. Who are they? Where are they? What do they like? Then plan your physical retail location around this.

  2. Be consistent. Ensure your brand aligns across all your customer touch points.

  3. Create a memorable experience so you stand out from the crowd. What will you do that makes you different?

  4. Consider how much space you need to best display your product. If you only have a few product lines, then often less space is more effective.

  5. Know what product range you will stock. You might choose to sell a full range or a limited collection. Managing stock levels with an inventory management tool will also be important.

  6. How will you visually merchandise and display your product to create interest and attract customers? Signage, display racks, tables etc are all part of presenting your product and brand in its best light.

  7. Think carefully about the logistics and resource requirements. Is it close to your distribution? How will you deliver stock there? How will you process sales? Will you need to hire people? Do you need to invest in shop fitouts?

  8. Is the physical presence financially feasible? Plan out a budget and keep track of the financial investment vs the sales return. Break this down to a daily/weekly sales target to ensure you keep on track and are profitable.

  9. Engage with each and every customer. Excellent customer service is absolutely critical to the physical experience!

  10. Always link back to your core goal. This might be to launch a product, acquire new customers, meet existing online customers or simply to make sales.

From market stalls to shopping centres, and from beaches to business districts, bringing your virtual store to real physical locations opens up a new world of opportunities for retail success. Customers still want to see, touch and feel your product in a way that only a physical presence can achieve.

“You must enchant, woo, surprise, prove and nurture the relationship, so they remain happily wedded to your brand. Building long-term mutually beneficial partnerships with your customers requires you to think and act differently”….. Marguerite Bell

Published in South X South Magazine March 2016

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