#WednesdayOneThing is a weekly opportunity for Clearbanc employees to share their knowledge of interesting trends in the retail and e-commerce space. Tune in to Facebook every Wednesday at 8:30AM EST to watch LIVE.
When was the last time you stepped foot in a physical mall? Personally, I avoid shopping malls at all costs, especially around holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And lucky for me, you can buy almost anything online these days—from mattresses to toilet paper—and an increasing number of people today opt to shop this way. According to a poll by NPR, over two-thirds of Americans say they’ve purchased something online. There’s clearly a trend of consumers choosing the convenience factor and ease of online shopping experiences.
Is traditional brick and mortar retail dead?
The short answer is no. Brick and mortar retail isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; however, it’s evolving as a result of the rise of e-commerce and DTC brands. Despite the convenience online shopping provides, there are many ways in which the in-store experience can’t be replicated. There are definitely innovative online brands like Le Tote, Glossier, and Warby Parker leading the way when it comes to the digital customer experience (like the Warby Parker home try-on app). But there are still many lessons e-commerce and DTC brands can still learn from embracing brick and mortar.
Humanize the customer service experience
It’s hard to emulate face-to-face customer service. While you can reach more shoppers at once online, a mistake many online retailers make is not anticipating the increased demand for their customer service department as they scale.
Imagine this scenario: You order an outfit online but since you couldn’t try it on you only now realize that it doesn’t fit properly. What’s worse, you got it for a specific occasion this weekend… and it’s already Thursday! First, you try to chat with someone online but the service never seems available. Now, you’re left to figure out how to return the dress and get a new one on time—good luck with that! We all know how slow shipping times can be. A customer service headache ensues and the convenience factor of trying to do this online is now working against you.
Rent the Runway learned this lesson the hard way. Rent the Runway is a service that allows customers to rent designer dresses. They deliver the dress to the customer, the customer wears it for a bit, and then they send it back when they’re done. Everything’s copacetic… until it isn’t.
Here’s the thing: More customers translate into more customer service issues, and you need to be ready to maintain the same response time and ability to damage control, which Rent the Runway sadly didn’t do.
Rent the Runway righted their wrong and addressed customer service issues relating to their cumbersome returns process. I give them huge kudos for this. It’s scary for a company to apologize and publicly acknowledge when they mess up. Not only did they apologize in the email they sent to their customers, but they also explained to customers how they plan on being better in the future.
When you go into a brick and mortar store, it’s much easier to return something (not to mention try it on and get the right fit in the first place.) Speaking with an actual human face-to-face also makes the customer feel heard and empathized with (if you’re doing it right.) When you’re an online brand, you have to pay special attention and go that extra mile to provide the same high-touch, seamless customer service that in-store brands can deliver.
Consider an omnichannel approach
Ever considered bringing your online brand to life in a brick and mortar environment? Exploring offline channels can boost your online sales and reach more customers in more places. Le Tote is one brand proving this works.
Lord & Taylor is a brand owned by Hudson’s Bay Company, one of Canada’s biggest retailers with several flagship locations across the country. Privately-owned online retailer and Clearbanc customer, Le Tote, recently purchased Lord & Taylor for a whopping $100M marking one of the first and largest instances of a new retailer buying out an older, established one.
With this acquisition, Le Tote will take over Lord & Taylor’s 38 brick and mortar locations, among other assets, effectively offering their customers a more holistic customer experience with more ways to shop.
This is a great move by Le Tote since they can now leverage prime store locations in key cities all over the country. And when you have these amazing and convenient properties, you can reach new and existing customers in a unique way and really bring your online presence to life. Customers can come in to complain, return things, and try stuff on to their heart’s content!
Combining your online presence with an offline one allows you to provide a more holistic customer experience. With this power move, Le Tote proves that brick and mortar retail isn’t dead, it’s just evolving and represents potential opportunity.
Embrace experiential selling
The synthesis of online and brick and mortar channels uncovers some more interesting opportunities for e-commerce and DTC brands.
Let’s look at Toys R Us as an example. They’ve been struggling lately and recently filed for bankruptcy. So they brought in a company called B8a (pronounced “beta”) to help save the day. B8a aims to bring the openness, ease, and intelligence of the online shopping experience to life via brick and mortar experiences. They have a proven track record of reinvigorating retail spaces to make them feel more like Apple stores. Their stores are sleek, clean, and filled with tables where customers can interact with and “try out” the merchandise—you won’t find shelves stacked with products inside. This provides a completely different buying experience and allows retailers to collect really useful data about how customers are interacting with their products.
I recently broke my rule of not going into shopping malls and visited a Dyson store in a big mall here in Toronto. It’s a completely experiential store. You can’t actually purchase anything there but you can try everything out, like pour sand on a carpet and suck it up with a Dyson vacuum. Being able to touch and use the products helps you really get a feel for what it would be like to own one. It’s near impossible to replicate this experience online and it helps make customers feel more confident about making a big purchase decision.
Casper does this with pop-up shops all over North America and nap showrooms. Buying a mattress is a big commitment so customers can try before they buy (or nap before they buy).
A retail location has the power to act as a catalyst for buying behavior, encouraging customers to make more confident purchases online.
Always put your customers first
“The customer is always right”. This adage still rings true whether you’re a brick and mortar or online brand. So whether you’re a small company selling T-shirts online or you’re a big Le Tote type brand with subscriptions to fulfill, the focal point should always be the customer.
Putting your customer at the center of your buying experience is crucial. You can do this by investing in omnichannel shopping experiences like some of the brands mentioned above or just being as transparent as possible and refining your online experience like Rent The Runway did.
Whether you’re online, offline, or both, ask yourself these 3 questions to make sure you’re always putting customers first:
- Are you interacting with your customers on a consistent basis?
- What is the post-sale experience like?
- Are you continuously engaging your customers and putting them at the center of the conversation?
One thing we know for sure is: brick and mortar retail is not going the way of the dinosaurs, but it is evolving. A successful evolution hinges on e-commerce and brick and mortar brands learning from each other and innovating together.
Watch Maury’s full #WednesdayOneThing discussion here: