The Joy of Shopping: How Physical Storefronts Are Surviving in a Digital Age / Industry / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Just because online shopping is booming doesn't mean physical stores should cease to exist. Here's how to stand up to the competition.

The digital age is upon us, and it seems to keep getting bigger and more dominant over physical interactions.

We spend as much time on social media as we do talking to people face-to-face (if not more).

With mobile traffic reaching record figures, it’s no surprise that many storefront owners are starting to worry about their long-term longevity.

Related Article: Fashion Forward: Top 10 Retail Trends for 2016

Storefronts Are Still Alive

That being said, physical storefronts aren’t exactly failing. According to recent research by Time Trade, as reported by Retail Touch Points, 85 percent of consumers still prefer physical retail locations to shopping online. This may or may not fully make up for the convenience of online shopping, but it does offer an explanation for why physical stores are still surviving.

How are these physical stores maintaining this consumer preference, with fewer offerings, geographical inconveniences, and usually higher prices? Furthermore, what can you do to make your physical storefront more appealing?

1. Get the Best of Both Worlds

Just because your main place of business is a physical storefront doesn’t mean you can’t branch out into the digital world as well. Consider getting the best of both worlds by setting up an online store to serve as a complement to your physical one. You’ll retain all the benefits of your physical location with the added benefits of a fully equipped online presence.

2. Encourage Brand Loyalty

When people buy from you, online or in the physical world, they aren’t buying a product—they’re buying an experience. Give them a unique, consistent experience, and they won’t want to go anywhere else. You can do this by creating a more unique brand, catering to more specific demographics, and ensuring that every customer experience is both pleasant and memorable. Stand out in people’s minds.

3. Allow Trial Runs

People strongly prefer returning a defective, unwanted, or otherwise inferior product to a physical store than an online retailer. The process is much more straightforward, so some consumers actively shop at physical retailers just to avoid the headache. Take advantage of this by offering more trials of your products and services in your storefront. Let people see, touch, and try your products before purchasing, and online stores won’t be able to compete with you. Test drives, free samples, and clean returns are just a handful of ways you can do this.

4. Integrate Social Media

Physical stores often acquire new customers through word-of-mouth referrals. Now that social media is so integrated into our daily lives, it represents one of the fastest and most efficient forms of human conversation. Drive those conversations and word-of-mouth referrals by integrating social media into your business. Get your business active on social media, ask your customers to check in at your place of business, or even offer contests or rewards for customers who mention you online.

5. Get Involved in the Community

In a physical storefront, your main demographics are the people who live in your surrounding neighborhoods. Get more involved with these demographics by getting more involved in community events. Attend fairs and tradeshows, and consider volunteering for community causes. The more visible you are, the better your reputation will grow and the more people will want to buy from you over a digital competitor.

6. Offer Something a Digital Screen Can’t

This is a simple, but often overlooked strategy for modern storefronts. Offer a product or service that online businesses can’t. Restaurants and cafes have a natural advantage—they can serve food and beverages hot and fresh. Try to think of a similar advantage for your own business. Can you offer a unique sensory experience to go along with your main offers? Can you offer a monetary or tangible bonus for coming in?

Related Article: What We Learned From Etsy's Top Sellers

7. Prioritize Face-to-Face Conversations

The human element is what most separates online storefronts from physical ones. People usually go to physical stores because they want to see and talk to other people. Get to know your regular customers on a first-name basis, and hire staff members who are passionate about customer service. The better human interaction you can offer your customers, the more likely you’ll beat the online competitors who can only offer email and “live chat” interactions.

If you incorporate some or all of these storefront strategies in this evermore-digital age, you should have no trouble surviving for the long haul. With 85 percent of consumers actively preferring a physical shopping experience, all you have to do is bridge the gap between your company offers and your customer needs. It will take some work, time, and progress, but it’s completely within your power.

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