4 Online Marketing Tactics Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Leverage to Thrive Online ads and social media are simply new ways to build the loyal customer base successful stores have always needed.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Many physical retailers continue resisting ecommerce. These businesses are hesitant to venture online, fearing they'll dilute their existing business model or confuse customers but ignoring mounting evidence that brick-and-mortar shops without an online business are seriously risking failure.
The internet continues to grow as a means of effective advertising and marketing, and retailers that want to survive are using it. Whereas only 60 percent of retailers were using social media strategies in 2013 that number is now believed to be well above 70 percent. If you aren't using social media or other online marketing approaches, you're part of the minority.
The key to being a successful retailer in the coming years will lie in your ability to connect with the new generation of millennials and even younger people who now hold massive buying power in today's economy. And, quite frankly, if you aren't using online marketing tactics, then you're missing out on this very important demographic. Already, 72 percent of millennials research an establishment online before walking in to shop.
You can leverage online marketing to maximize offline sales -- here are some helpful strategies and tangible takeaways.
Related: How Retailers Are Thriving Despite the Supposed Death of Their Industry
1. Build an online community.
One of the best strategies is to build an online community around a subject matter or niche that's related to your core product offering. If you've primarily been a brick and mortar retailer and now you're venturing into the online world more, I always recommend content marketing of some kind, since so many people are consuming content now.
You're eventual goal should be to pump out material on a regular basis that highlights your expertise in the type of business you run. For example, think of a big company that offers tax preparation services. It runs a blog that features stories about new tax rules or tips on tax exemptions. Perhaps this company holds a networking event with speakers who can answer questions about taxes.
You can do all this even if you're new to ecommerce. By building an active community, you're simultaneously creating an owned media outlet that can then be leveraged to promote your retail experience. The idea is to make sure people know that they can not only turn to you for finding a certain type of product, but also trust you to generate opinion about that subject so they can understand it better.
Related: 4 Ways Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Outsell Online Retailers
2. Use Google AdWords (and other paid advertising).
In order to reach today's customer, you have to think like them. If you were a potential customer who didn't know your business existed, how would you discover the business? Sure, you could drive by and see it, but millennials are more likely to search for something on Google.
If you want to reach these searchers – which could potentially be a group of thousands in your immediate geographical area – then you must invest in paid advertising. Google AdWords will probably give you good bang for your buck.
Related: 3 Eras in the Evolution of Brick-and-Mortar Retail to a Digital Future With a Happy Ending
3. Connect the dots with email.
If you aren't asking customers to sign up for some kind of rewards program, you're missing out on the opportunity to build a valuable contact list. You should be collecting email addresses at checkout.
When you collect emails, you can then build an email list that can be used to advertise deals, share news, and promote special in-store offers. When users have access to such deals, they may be less likely to shop online for a certain product and more likely to wait until visiting your store.
Related: Technology's Daydream Is Becoming the Nightmare of Brick-and-Mortar Retail
4. Make web design a priority.
Last but not least, your web design is a direct reflection of your business. Specifically, you need to pay attention to mobile web design. While you may not think of web design as a component of Internet marketing, it certainly is. Just consider that 57 percent of users won't recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile website.
People who put together mobile sites nowadays have it down to a science. Everything from load times to placement of certain items on your smart phone screen heavily influences whether or not someone makes a purchase. Do your homework, hire someone with experience in this area, and put together something strong that helps you transition to the online world.
In the end, the path to success is clear. If brick and mortar stores want to survive the ongoing shift to an ecommerce-based economy, they need to invest in ways of optimizing their online experience. How your site looks and how you communicate with the communities you create is almost as important as how much customers connect with your product. If you leverage the online world right, you'll keep customers that Amazon is only too eager to snatch away from you.