Many brick-and-mortar businesses were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic as a majority of people stayed home and ordered things online. But as we ride the waves of potential reopenings, a Forbes magazine article states that “the chance to go shopping in person is high on many peoples’ wish lists.” In general, brick-and-mortar business is coming back, although it does vary by product type. According to an International Omni-channel Retail Report 2021 by YouGov, “essentials are more likely to be purchased in brick-and-mortar stores (78%) than online (57%), while discretionary items are more often bought online (72%) versus in-store (57%).”
Why consumers love shopping online
Safety was and will continue to be a big reason for customers to shop online. As things open up, many people will remain wary of crowds and will want businesses to make them feel safe by limiting the number of customers. But convenience will also continue to be a strong motivator. Brick-and-mortar businesses should think hard about how to make the physical shopping experience more convenient by eliminating the pain of waiting in line and offering more flexible ways to get your items such as curbside pickup.
Arguably one of the biggest advantages of e-commerce is being able to compare a variety of goods, do research, purchase, and receive products at leisure, all without leaving home. In addition, the competitive nature of the e-commerce landscape means that people have come to expect perks like free shipping, membership discounts, and other money-saving promotional offers. Perhaps because they’re able to comparison shop and watch for deals, findings in the YouGov report show that people prefer to look for things that are not everyday essentials (and tend to be more high-end) like shoes, clothes, home goods, and electronics, online.
But there are other items like groceries, beverages, personal care items, medications, and medical supplies – things people need daily and prefer to pick out for themselves – that consumers prefer to buy at physical retailers. On average, women make up a higher percentage of buyers both online and in-person across all categories, with the exception of computer equipment, phones, video gaming items, electrical household goods, and entertainment products.
How brick-and-mortars can leverage their advantage
So how do physical retailers (especially ones that sell higher-end goods that people prefer to buy online), compete with an increasing reliance on e-commerce? By delivering great customer experiences and making people feel like VIPs, whether it’s never forgetting a name, remembering a birthday, offering a discount on a favorite service, or setting up a 1:1 shopping experience. Having a well-trained staff is incredibly important, and platforms like Waitwhile can help by keeping track of customer data and making it possible to offer special guests special perks such as concierge services. Today, more than ever consumers want to feel like VIPs and online shopping just can’t compare.
To create amazing guest experiences, businesses must be thoughtful and deliberate about every step of their customers’ journeys starting with the beginning. At Waitwhile, we’ve been inspired by our customers who’ve done just that and have as a result seen an increase in loyalty and satisfaction. Best Buy made their customers feel safe and happy by eliminating physical lines and allowing them to wait from anywhere. While Louis Vuitton created a unified high-end experience across all 331 of their retail locations where instead of waiting in line, guests were checked in by a host and made to feel like VIPs every step of the way.
In addition to creating loyal customers through great in-store experiences, physical retailers should take a page out of the e-commerce playbook and keep their businesses top of mind by continuing to communicate with guests outside of their store visits. With e-commerce this is commonly done through email campaigns, but new tools such as Waitwhile make it possible for brick-and-mortar businesses to message their customers before, after, and in-between visits. That way, they can build customer relationships by offering special promotions and letting them know about in-store events.
Physical retail will always have a natural advantage over e-commerce. Nothing can replace the experience of being able to physically touch and try on products or get great service from real people. According to YouGov, “The outlook that many will return to physical stores is favorable, given that recent online shoppers say they still prefer brick-and-mortar.” People want to be out and about and they have money to spend. Research conducted by McKinsey found that “around half of consumers who plan to splurge are pandemic-fatigued and intend to spend soon, particularly on discretionary categories such as apparel, beauty, and electronics.” The time to act is now.