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Save The Stores By Reinvesting In Service

One jam-packed mall on one day might not be enough of a sample to disprove theories that in-store shopping is a dying art.

Nonetheless, it was pleasantly startling to have to park so far from the mall entrance on Labor Day weekend. 

Justin Bieber was nowhere to be found among the throngs crisscrossing the aisles, so it’s safe to say everyone was there for one reason: to shop. And presumably to buy.

This annual Top 100 Housewares Retailers issue (September 17, 2012) examines what brick-and-mortar retailing is doing to revitalize stores in the face of the steady growth of online at-home and mobile shopping.

No doubt, for most of these retailers, stores remain the foundation needed to sustain the permanence of their brands and businesses, despite their efforts to advance online sales.

Capture & Convert

Investing in a robust e-commerce platform is a critical adaptation to market demands by any retailer eyeing a long future. Such maneuvering, however, shouldn’t upstage the more critical need to re-create in-store experiences that capture and convert more consumers.

One potential silver lining in the mounting concern among brick-and-mortar retailers about “showrooming”— in which shoppers examine products in stores only to seek and buy them online at lower prices— is that such consumers still are making the effort to enter stores for some hands-on browsing.

By some accounts, nearly three-quarters of consumers still prefer to buy products in stores after researching them online. Many cite a desire to examine actual products, the instant gratification of take-home purchases and the perception of simpler returns.

You don’t hear the word “service” often anymore as an in-store perk. Yet it is in that word that the key to enduring, thriving existence as a brick-and-mortar retailer might reside.

Store Homogenization

The retail big-boxing responsible for such dramatic growth the past couple of decades also contributed to homogenization that has left store operators more vulnerable to e-commerce.

Successful, repeatable in-store merchandising now mandates proprietary product at great-deal pricing. There are limits, though, to what brick-and-mortar retailers and their vendors can do to create truly differentiated assortments— especially in hardlines— insulated from at-your-fingertips comparison shopping.

Training Session

And stores are in no position to counter the adjust-by-the-minute price wars now being waged among web retailers and their affiliates. Nor should they be.

Some of largest and most successful retailers did a wonderful job of training shoppers to expect self-service environments. Many now should allocate more resources to training on-floor personnel to provide knowledge and assistance that can’t be matched by a website’s product descriptions, 3D imagery or litany of customer reviews. 

Brick-and-mortar retailers that withstand the online onslaught will be those that already enforce a strong service culture; and those that realize it’s not too late to re-capture some of that selling floor intimacy.

The goal shouldn’t be to resist online retailing development that figures to become more essential to all successful brick-and-mortar retailers. Rather, it should be to reinforce store foundations by reinvesting in core practices that engage shoppers, suppress their urges to seek out a modestly better price and, most importantly, convert them.

Resurrecting the art of customer service would give more retailers the strength to stave off the death of in-store shopping. And in-store buying.