Why are the malls not empty yet?

Apparently retail is dead. Online shopping is destroying it and, if you believe the hype,all the malls will soon be full of tumble-weeds. Due to constantly improving and sophisticated e-commerce, e-tailers like Amazon, or little online ‘stores’ set up and run through TradeMe it would seem that consumers have very little incentive to shop at brick and mortar stores any more. The social aspects of shopping are now being attacked by start-ups like Svpply. And group buying and the tipping point theory are still there as well. So why are the malls are not empty yet?

Stores are becoming advertisements for their brands as much as they are becoming the knowledge centre. And yes, that does mean customers try instore before they buy online so you better be ready to get them at both touchpoints. But what if stores were designed to exploit the desire to try stuff out rather than purely to push the sale? They would then invariably remain as part of the consumer shopping experience and work to help people make their buying decision. A casual browsing environment with convenient points of purchase rather than a barrage of high-pressured sales people and a line of cash registers can lure people in to browse even when they are not intending to purchase.

The sale may be converted now or later, either online or instore, as long as they buy your brand then you have them hooked. When retailing multiple brands the challenge becomes one of building trust with consumers at store level, offering after-sales services or added value services that may not be available online. Repairs and product warranties are a good place to start the customer relationship and build strength against online shopping.

Most companies think they need to be part of the social media landscape—and in some cases this is a good idea. There are good and bad ways of doing this and we’ve all seen it backfire. The interesting part of social media is how much we listen to each other. Recent information shows that eight out of ten people trust peer reviews over all other sources. Peer reviews from people they do not, and never will, meet or know. A clear opportunity exists here to stop trying to beat staff into the perfect walking product info expert and engage customers who have already purchased the product and are happy with what they have. Even better, if they are happy with the service they receive from the store then it will speak volumes more than any TVC or glossy advertisement.

This is not rocket science. Treat your customer well, honestly and give them a good deal and they will come back and tell others. Educate them, have instore trials and drive membership experiences to win your customers over. Marketing, promoting and advertising on price-slashing or bargains only leads to bargain hunters and drives the market down. Price can only go down so far. Then where do you go?

The successful retailers of the next generation will be the ones that create and develop an open, two-way relationship with their customers. They will value their customers opinions and know what to do with that information. They will recommend products that are of value to their customers and admit when they got it wrong. But they will be doing it by proxy through their customers’ recommendations and reviews with brand ambassadors online. Some of these will be paid, some will not. Some already are.

Retail still has one major drawcard over any online experience: face time with customers. This is the opportunity to build the relationship and take it to the next level. Creating a community feel and space for shoppers to linger without feeling like prey might add to their feeling of being welcome and wanting to explore. Having staff that are well-versed in striking up conversations and can relate to the customer will mean they can gather insights from them as to why they are there or what they want. It’s human-centric design thinking.

Gathering intelligence on the shop floor about the wants and needs of your customer is not something that’s easy to emulate online, not even in the latest e-shops.

  • Tony Reardon is resident copywriter and business manager at Lemonade.

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