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GUEST COMMENT The Persistence of brick and mortar

Image: Paul Skeldon/InternetRetailing Media

Amazon and eBay launched in 1995, kicking off the ecommerce revolution that is still transforming the global economy. The iPhone debuted in 2007, and soon, ecommerce had an even bigger platform that is also small enough to carry around in your pocket. Last year, an estimated 1.8 billion people bought things online, spending approximately $2.8 trillion worldwide.

All that said, in North America, online sales still accounted for less than 10% of total retail sales.

Yes, the rise of ecommerce has disrupted shopping in profound ways, but the reality is that shopping isn’t as disrupted as we think. People still like to shop in stores. Billions of shoppers continue to show up for the full sensory experience of shopping at a brick-and-mortar location. So, rather than focusing on growing digital revenue streams to the exclusion of everything else, retailers should look at ways to disrupt shopping by delivering a consistent customer experience across all channels — including stores.  

The in-store experience is still the gold standard, but you need to give customers a reason to come in. If the fact that most people are still buying things in stores rather than online isn’t enough of an incentive to give the in-store experience the focus it deserves, consider this: shoppers spend more when they’re in a store than they do online. Impulse buying is real; a recent consumer survey that found that 71% of shoppers spent $50 or more when shopping at a store vs. 54% who shopped online.

Same-day shipping is more common in urban centers these days, but even if you can have your goods delivered quickly, ordering something online is just no substitute for good old retail therapy. So, how do you build a relationship with customers that covers their digital shopping needs while also appealing to them when they crave an in-store experience? Consistent, consent-based and value-driven communication is the key, and the first step is to ask their permission.

There are all sorts of touchpoints that are appropriate to collect customer consent for communication, and the “ask” shouldn’t be hidden in the fine print. It’s a good practice to ask customers for permission to communicate (via text, phone, social media, etc.) when they sign up for loyalty rewards, apply for a credit card account or make a purchase — regardless of whether they sign up online or in a store. If you make it clear you’ll deliver something of value when you reach out, they’ll accept the invitation.  

An omnichannel strategy to increase foot traffic in stores can be incredibly effective with the right incentives. For example, a retailer that sells big ticket items related to cooking could communicate with foodie customers via text or other channels, recommending culinary tips, kitchen design pointers and an offer of a free item if the customer comes in for a live cooking demonstration. The retailer could follow up on the text campaign with an ad for a related item or notice of an upcoming sale.

The point is to create a relationship with customers and give them an incentive to visit the store. An effort to cultivate foot traffic doesn’t have to be separate from or conflict with campaigns to generate online purchases; ideally, customer communication should be consistent across all channels, with offers for merchandise available online and at the store melding seamlessly into a conversation that takes place where customers are, whether on a device or in person at a store.  

So, if you’re formulating your marketing plans and taking a look at customer outreach options for the year ahead, keep in mind that customers still value the in-store shopping experience, and they tend to spend more money in the store than online. With an API-powered platform that drives customer engagement, you can connect with customers where they are, asking permission to communicate and building a relationship that includes digital and in-person conversations.


Tara Kelly is CEO, SPLICE Software

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