Online and offline worlds don’t need to collide. E-commerce guide for bricks and mortar shop owners.

Posted by Luke Szkudlarek on 16 March 2012 | 0 Comments

Read our e-commerce tips for shop owners looking to integrate bricks and mortar locations with e-commerce.
Last week we gave you an insight into the idea of joined-up approach to your marketing activity, in other words connecting the online & offline efforts.  Surprisingly, our experience is that many retailers seem to ignore the opportunities of joining up the traditional and digital and do nothing to mitigate the risk of the shrinking offline revenues.  Such inactivity threatens retailers' survival in the medium to long term.

UK retail key highlights and  numbers

  • According to British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents most major retailers in the UK, the figures show footfall (i.e. customer numbers) - was down 0.9% in January 2011  compared with a year ago.

  • Double digit growth in online sales - the value of internet retail sales in 2011 was £27 billion, accounting for around 9% of total retail sales, this is up from £23.4 billion in 2010 (15% increase YoY) source: BRC.

  • Recent research indicates 72% of adults use their broadband connection for purchasing goods and services (UK)

  • And finally 14% of the UK high street shops stand empty (source: BBC).  This metric could hit 50 per cent within three years, as half of all high street leases are due to expire by 2015 (source: Jones Lang LaSalle - property consultancy)

Philipp Schindler, vice president for northern and central Europe at Google, said at the World Retail Congress: "It's time to stop differentiating between the online and the offline world. Your customers don't see it that way – everything is integrated." Here’s our starting point for those who are interested in joining up their traditional sales methods with digital technology.

Bricks and mortar - ideas for shop owners - large and small!

  • "Showrooming" (i.e. when shoppers visit a store to see a product in person, only to buy it online at a lower price) is one of your worst enemies. Retailers could offer special products that set them apart from competitors and are difficult to compare. If it’s not possible and you are confident that you offer a reasonable price you could encourage users to compare prices with online retailers whilst they are in the store. They will do anyway!

  • Keep commoditised inventory small to make more room for high end products and products that people want to examine and compare, you can encourage customers to order commodities online.

  • There are two main reasons why customers use mobile phones in your store: 1) to look for reviews 2) to compare prices. This is a strong indicator that they are at the end of the buying cycle. If you want to close the sale you need to provide this additional information just like on a website, e.g. make the product reviews and testimonials easily accessible in your store. If you have an app to do this, offer it in the store. This will keep them away from the competitors’ websites.

  • Price match - if you can’t match the online price you are likely to not only lose the sale, but also a long term customer.

  • Also shoppers would rather use smartphones than consult store associates (source: Accenture) - makes sure the additional product information can be easily accessed. You could display QR codes or short URLs with links to your website.

  • Retailers need to make the shop visit fun so your customers feel that it's worth making a visit.

  • Offer loyalty programmes to incentivise customers who come into your store.

  • Allow customers to use smartphones to check availability, reserve and order items at store locations.

  • Advertise special product categories, such as Bestsellers and top-rated prodcuts, to make it easier for customers to find and buy what they are looking for.

  • Train your staff to ensure they can update/monitor your social media pages to speak to customers online.

  • Connect with your customers online - use social networking sites to build relationships with your customers. Make sure that the staff at your store are aware of the online conversations and can easily access social networking sites.

  • Encourage your staff to use web chat to offer customer service to customers browsing your website.

  • Make the online customer database available to your staff in the store. You can impress your customers and save their time by knowing their profile and past purchases.

  • Research your products and have all the information needed to help your customers make the decision in the store, e.g. read online reviews, common issues, alternative products and prices.

  • If you have a website take advantage of the local Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to target the keywords that contain the locations of your stores.

  • Add your business location to Google Maps and Google Places to make your store easier to find on Google Search.

  • Offer coupons and discount vouchers for customers who visit the shop.

  • Review and adapt your store layout to seasonal cycles and trends. Use online insight to identify trending products and themes.

  • Promote links to your website and social media sites i.e. Twitter, Facebook, G+

  • Reach your target demographic through social media marketing and paid ads on Facebook

  • Add discount vouchers and offers to receipts. This is a great opportunity to upsell and x-sell your products. You can also ask customers to register online.

  • Customer satisfaction surveys are cheap when they are published online. You could ask your customers to complete the survey online during their visit in the store.

  • One registration. If you have a loyalty program and you are asking your customers to provide their personal details make sure you can input them into your database, which can be accessed online.

  • If you are confident that you provide value for money you can offer free WiFi in the store to encourage customers to browse and compare your product with competitors.

  • Make sure your website is optimised for mobile search to target important location based queries so that users looking for your store location can find your address and map.

E-commerce tips for shop owners who are looking to expand their reach by offering and selling your products online. Remember before you invest your time and money to build an e-commerce site you can test the waters by selling on Amazon and Ebay.

  • Offer different payment methods, including allowing customers to order online and pay in store. There are customers who don't have or don't want to use credit cards online.

  • Online presence will also increase your offline sales (mainly telephone). You need to ensure that your staff are aware of online offers and can close the sale on the phone.

  • Ensure that customers can order online and collect in the shop – save them shipping costs!

  • Ask your staff and gather insights from your physical stores to add to the website content, e.g. FAQ and additional product information.

  • Use Google Analytics reporting and analysis to find out how many visitors come to your site every day. Every visitor to your site is a potential customer.

  • Use web chat to communicate with the customers who browse your website at the moment. If you are worried about the resources the web chat feature could be enabled during the quiet periods in the shop.

  • Create paid search campaigns to increase traffic and sales from your target markets. PPC is the fastest way to reach potential customers. You can tailor your ads and calls to action to location and encourage customers to call or visit your store.

  • Use email to keep in touch with your customers, make sure you can segment your audience by location and customer behaviour. e.g. promote your bricks-and-mortar stores to online customers who live near the shop or advertise last minute offers to online shoppers.

  • Make sure your website is mobile friendly – more and more people own smartphones and use them to buy online.

  • Use animation and video to give a demonstration or explain complex products. Encourage your online visitors to come to your store for more information.

  • If you have the budget you could develop virtual fitting room or virtual mannequins to help customers buy the right size and increase the confidence in online purchase.

  • Make sure that online vouchers can be redeemed in-store.

  • Collect customer reviews on products in the stores and aggregate them with your online reviews.


The number of offline shoppers is likely to shrink as more people buy online. This will be good for customers, who are going to see a much better integration of online and offline retail experience, i.e. joined-up customer service and buying process. From the retailers point of view these could be fun and exciting times too. The world wide web presents a lot of opportunities and business owners need to act quickly as the times of quick sale at the store location are over.

References and further reading 

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