How Retailers Can Become Indispensable to Online Shoppers

Twenty or more years since the emergence of online shopping, consumers trends make it clear consumers see value in both ecommerce and in-person shopping. Referencing a 2019 GE Shopper Research Study, GE Capital CMO Toni White said, “While online research plays a bigger role throughout the major purchase process, 60% of consumers start by visiting a search engine, then go to the retailer’s website, and ultimately, 88% made their final purchase in store.” In the end, people want to buy from people, so here are some ways to get online customers to come and buy from your store.
Ease the novice learning curve
You may have some customers who come through the door without any preconceived notions about what they want or need. Or perhaps even more likely, they’re coming in overwhelmed by the research they’ve done online. Their hands-on education on outdoor gear can start in your store, with your staff. For that to happen, however, novices have to feel comfortable and welcome in your store and with your staff.
One appealing aspect of online shopping is that novice customers don’t risk feeling foolish or humiliated because they don’t have to interact with people. Getting started in outdoor sports can be intimidating on its own, so to keep costumers from retreating back to their computers for anonymous buying experiences, take steps to make your store experience less intimidating. A lot of this comes down to training sales staff to meet the customer wherever they are on the spectrum from novice to expert and to be enthusiastic and supportive of the customer’s current level of knowledge and engagement in a given outdoor activity.
Go beyond the online reviews
A 2018 report from Bazaarvoice found that 45% of in-store customers read product reviews prior to making their purchases. To make yourself indispensable to customers you have to provide insights, context, and guidance that go beyond what they could learn from other peers online. You have more expertise than @OutdoorBob89534 who left a glowing but uneducated product review on some website. And through in-person dialogue you have an opportunity to guide a customer to the right product more effectively than the side-by-side comparison chart they found on an influencer’s blog post. When the guidance you provide is more useful and personalized than what customers can find on their own, they will continue to seek your guidance for future purchases.
Create added value
Some stores create loyalty programs or offer discounts and sales incentives to returning customers, but it’s also important to add value in ways that are not transactional. Small gestures that show appreciation can have outsized returns in terms of enhancing a customer’s overall affinity for your store, and subsequently their loyalty to purchasing from you. This can be as simple as inquiring about a customer’s recent adventure by sending them a postcard after they purchased paddle boarding equipment for that trip. Or you can provide a sample of a new sports nutrition product a customer might like. Many times, the value of these gestures is enhanced when they are unexpected and spontaneous, even when that means they are received less frequently. It’s not what you’re providing or how much; it’s the gesture and the recognition that provide the added value.
Take a stand
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021, 63 percent of people surveyed want to buy from companies that are socially responsible. This adds weight to the results of a 2020 study by the National Retail Federation (NRF) that found 61 percent of people surveyed thought retailers should take a stance on social justice issues. Many retailers and brands are hesitant to take a stand on any social justice, environmental, or political issue, for fear of alienating a portion of their customer base. The most important thing is to choose issues you can take a stand on authentically. Chances are, your values are already similar to the majority of your customers. If you are taking a stand on issues that matter to you, you’ll likely gain more customers who respect your stance and you probably won’t miss the few customers you could risk losing.
Accelerate the enthusiast learning curve
Just as welcoming and educating the novice reduces the intimidation factor of learning new activities, retailers have the opportunity to be indispensable guides for enthusiasts looking to upgrade their gear and skills. Online reviews, brand-centric communities, and social media influencers inundate enthusiasts with often-conflicting messages about what they need, where they should go, and even how they should perceive their place in the outdoor community. The retail store offers the assurance of reality. People can try gear on, hold it in their hands, and learn how to use it. What makes the store’s staff indispensable compared to online influences is the ability to personalize guidance, product recommendations, and instruction in more meaningful and authentic ways than any AI- or algorithm-driven product recommendation engine.
If you’ve been around the outdoor retail industry for a while–or any retail industry for that matter–you probably remember the days when ecommerce was predicted to be the death of retail. Certainly, it has changed the retail landscape, but current data indicates that many consumers have struck a balance between researching online and purchasing in-store. Online shopping won’t be the death of retail, but it will continue to push in-store retailers to excel in areas that are weaknesses for online sellers.

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