“How can we compete against e-commerce?”

That’s the question I hear most often from traditional retailers. As a frequent speaker on the subject of marketing and selling to women, the subject comes up in most of the conferences I attend.  And while there are many strategies in play, I often see retailers overlooking their most obvious opportunity: to make their stores such a great experience to visit that people will want to spend time their time and money in them.

Even if you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer with an e-commerce channel of distribution, don’t underestimate the power of connecting with your consumers within four walls. Lackluster service, poor merchandising and uninspiring physical environments are still too prevalent and represent just as a great a threat to traditional retail as anything else.  And yet, happily, these are all elements completely within a retailer’s control.

If you’re in retail, or if you’re a manufacturer that relies on brick-and-mortar channels to distribute your products, consider this:

2. Friendly service is now critical. Every moment counts when consumers are trained to click on a better option if they feel unwelcome in your store.  As a retailer, you can’t control the pace of technology, you can’t control the economy, but you can control how your customers are treated.  As competition increases, great service can be your biggest differentiator.  Yet it’s still happens too rarely.

Just yesterday I walked into a small, locally owned store that was completely empty.   Even though I was the only customer in the place, the employee never looked up or acknowledged me. There are many people who want to support traditional retailers and find themselves walking away in anger and frustration when their efforts are unrewarded by disengaged staff.  Train your team to greet customers with a smile, a sincere hello and eye contact within the first 30-seconds of entering the store.

2. Successful retailers sell inspiration. The juggernaut that is Pinterest is an incredible example of what inspiration means to people – especially women.  How are you inspiring customers in your store?  To start with, examine the language on your signage.  Is it purely directional, or does it tell a story?  Does the copy speak directly to consumers, or merely show product names and pricing? I once saw a sign at a store that said, “You’re going to love this!” It stopped me in my tracks. How could I not look?

Great merchandising stokes your customers’ imagination, and yet I see many stores that are under-merchandised.  Consider incorporating lifestyle cues in displays to make them seem more current and less static.  For example, imagine showcasing a women’s ‘office-appropriate’ dress on a mannequin that’s wearing headphones and holding a laptop.   How can you let your creative juices flow and incorporate the markers of contemporary life into your merchandising?

Finally, women think holistically.  Wherever you can, create vignettes that demonstrate how products go together.  To stoke your own inspiration, look outside your industry and visit retailers that routinely deliver an experience, such as Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel and American Girl.

3. Women shop with all their senses. Is your store a place that people want to linger?  How does it smell, how does it sound?  As of this writing, it’s still impossible to smell or touch something through a laptop or smart phone.  This creates an opportunity to reach the senses that e commerce can’t.  Women consumers in particular are highly attuned to the details of a retail environment, from scent to lighting to music to the tactile nature of touching and examining products.  Challenge yourself: how many senses can be engaged within the four walls of your store?

Recently, a new Mariano’s grocery store opened in my neighborhood.  As I walked into the place for the first time, I expected to see great produce and gourmet brands: what I didn’t expect to see was a grand piano stationed near the cash registers, being played masterfully by a pianist.  As I stood in line and unloaded my cart, I found myself tapping my toes to the melody and smiling at the strangers behind me.  The strangers smiled back.  What a great way to deliver an emotionally engaging experience in the most traditional of retail environments: a grocery store.

Traditional retail has a built-in opportunity to stoke inspiration, create sensory experiences and differentiate itself by providing outstanding personal service.  Leverage these strengths to better serve both your customers and the bottom line.

 Article originally published on Forbes.com

Women drive between 70 - 80% of all consumer household spending, and Bridget Brennan researches and analyzes why they buy the things they do. As CEO of consulting firm Female Factor, Bridget is one of the world’s leading authorities on marketing and selling to women. She is the author of the book, “Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers,” (Crown Business), which was called “essential reading” by the Wall Street Journal. In 2016, Bridget was named a “Woman to Watch in Retail Disruption” by think tank Remodista. Bridget is a frequent contributor for Forbes.com, speaks globally on the subject of women’s consumer spending and is a guest lecturer at business schools. She is based in Chicago. Write her at [email protected], or visit www.thefemalefactor.com.

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