How Physical Stores Can Survive E-Commerce
As a digital marketer, I often rub shoulders with e-commerce tacticians lining up the next growth hack designed to undercut the competition and win the customer’s sale. Indeed, e-commerce is an intensely competitive space, where online advertising is auctioned to the highest bidder and conversion optimization is studied strenuously. As a consumer, we have unprecedented access to a global catalogue, complemented by powerful algorithms guaranteeing we only pay the cheapest price. With cut-throat competition and acute price sensitivity, a race to the bottom is in full swing, and I couldn't help but consider the effect on brick-and-mortar businesses. Consequently, I decided to investigate how entrepreneurs running physical stores are staying in the fight.
Over the next three years, e-commerce retail sales are expected to grow by 256 percent according to Statista, which would then account fior 17.5 percent of the global retail market. While the "retail apocalypse" has been widely prophesied and is largely sensationalised, it does hold some truth. For example, 60 percent of brick-and-mortar retail executives interviewed by Mastercard admitted that they had closed stores in response to the growing competition, citing pricing, delivery speed, marketing and brand recognition as factors that give e-commerce businesses an edge. However, the companies most often effected are not enterprise brick-and-mortar, but rather small businesses that might occupy mall space, i.e. book stores, sporting-goods stores, electronics stores and so on.
But in the shadows of these ominous headlines, I found many examples of brick-and-mortar stores prospering. Size Up Supplements is a prime example, growing to eight physical stores in the last few years by providing sport- and health-supplements to thousands of customers. So what makes Size Up succeed where others fail? I spoke to Chase Campbell, the company's founder and CEO, who at the age of 19 dropped out of college to pursue his business and opened his first Size Up location in Shelby, Missouri. Eight stores later, and he still believes there is hope in brick-and-mortar. With Campbell's input, we've put together these three crucial pointers to carving out similar success.
1. Obsess over customer satisfaction.
According to Campbell, one of the main challenges is encouraging customers to visit a store when everything they need is a click away. For Size Up Supplements, aiming to satisfy a level of customer satisfaction unobtainable online has been instrumental to its growth. For example, in the early stages of launching, Size Up would offer free branded t-shirts alongside every purchase. “I used to give customers a free t-Shirt, and they would act as I gave them a stick of gold," recalls Campbell. "It made their day.” As a brick-and-mortar, being able to physically interact with customers is an instant opportunity to win loyal advocates.
Campbell also stresses the importance of being innovative and providing experiences that e-commerce stores just can’t match. For example, Size Up will frequently invite famous athletes or local sporting heroes in-store to welcome customers, sign memorabilia or host raffles.
2. Be part of the community.
While e-commerce propels itself on the simplicity and practicality of online shopping, it’s often faceless and impersonal. On the other hand, brick-and-mortar businesses are sewn into the fabric of society. For thousands of years, marketplaces have been the meeting grounds connecting communities and culture. From the great bazaars of Damascus and ancient agoras in Greece to modern U.S. mega-malls, brick-and-mortar retail is an institution woven into culture and community, a competitive advantage that needs to be utilized.
Campbell has used social media to showcase the stories of his customers, broadcast regional events and engage audiences on relevant topics. Each Size Up shop has become a cornerstone not only for athletes seeking guidance, but the community outside of sports as well. By hosting regular charitable events and helping families who are struggling, the shops have embedded themselves in their immediate surroundings.
Campbell's story is genuinely one of rags to riches, and it's evident how important it is for him to be open about that journey with his customers. In doing so, he’s personalized Size Up and become a beacon for other entrepreneurs.
3. Welcome change.
With thousands of apps such as Shopify designed to digitize the retail experience, store owners have an incredible arsenal of services to complement their shoppers's experience and streamline business operations. Pairing in-store interactions with online experiences, such as email marketing, social media and paid advertising (e.g. Google Maps Marketing) is a useful tool for any owner.
For businesses that refuse to adapt, the future is unstable. But those that see an opportunity in the changing ecosystem of retail shopping have much to gain. It’s stories like Size Up's that keep me confident brick-and-mortar businesses are still very much here to stay. E-commerce may be omnipresent, it also marks a turning point where those who adapt will prosper and those who refuse risk struggling to stay afloat.