5 Ways Brick and Mortar Stores Have You Beat – And What You Can Learn from Them


Over the last 20 years, the emergence of eCommerce has radically changed how people shop, and the industry is getting more innovative by the day. Online shopping is convenient, often has better prices, and makes it easy to shop around and compare several stores and products at the same time.

But that doesn’t mean online retailers don’t face challenges of their own, especially in terms of customer experience. Here are a few ways brick and mortar stores still have an advantage, and what you can learn from them.

1. A personal touch

While many online stores have a “Bestsellers” section on their homepage, the most popular products may not be what a specific customer is looking for. Imagine walking into a store and having the salesperson start selling you on their #1 product without even asking what you’re looking to buy. It just wouldn’t make sense. Instead, he or she can talk to you to find out you needs and concerns – but this is much harder to do online.


A proactive chat might be a good solution, but remember – just as nobody likes an annoying sales rep following you around a store and interrupting your shopping, shoppers on your site won’t want somebody badgering you constantly. Make sure you brush up on your proactive chat etiquette before going crazy with the chat.It’s a good idea to start with a general message like, “Hi there! What can I help you with today?” and make sure shoppers can close or minimize the chat if they don’t feel like using it.

2. Experiential design

Think about the last time you were in Abercrombie & Fitch, with their dark store, loud music, and fragrant perfumes. Even if that’s not your thing, it certainly works for their target demographic and their brand is well known for these details that immerse shoppers in the A&F experience.


While I wouldn’t recommend automatically playing music when someone clicks to your store (that’s just irritating), you want to make sure your website reflects your brand. If you have physical stores, think about what makes them unique and try to implement aspects of it in your website. You can also check out inspiration from other online stores. Above all though, make sure that you design your website keeping customer experience in mind.

3. Strategic product placement

Picture the grocery store you frequent: it’s perfectly optimized to get you to spend more money. Everyday items like milk, eggs, and bread are often placed at the back of the store, so you have to pass tons of products and in-store marketing before getting to what you want. Low-ticket items under $10 are often placed by the checkout line to entice you to pick them up while you wait.


Think about what products customers often buy together. If you are an apparel retailer, think about selling ties with shirts or belts or other accessories with pants. Amazon has perfected collaborative filtering with personalized suggestions based on the products a shopper is looking at:

Amazon suggestions screenshot

4. Positive reinforcement

I was buying a jacket a couple years ago and the one I wanted was final sale, so I was worried about not having the chance to return it in case I didn’t love it later. At just the right moment, a sales associate came up to me and told me I looked like I belonged in London or Paris in the jacket – that did it for me, and I bought the jacket. Call me vain, but I still remember the compliment, two years later!


Ok, so I would probably be really disturbed if my computer gave me the same compliment that sales associate had. But there are other ways you can achieve a similar effect. After a shopper has put something in their shopping cart, you can reinforce their choice by showing them a testimonial from a satisfied customer who bought that same product, naming one or two of its great features, or even pointing out that they’ve just selected a popular best-seller.

5. Try before they buy

It’s no surprise that showrooming is such a concern for offline retailers – shoppers love comparing and buying items online, but they also love being able to touch, test, and compare products, especially big-ticket items like furniture – who doesn’t want to sit on a couch before purchasing it for their home? Plus, sales associates are often a wealth of information, trained to be experts in the products they are selling.


You can offer shoppers the next best thing by making your product descriptions as detailed as possible. Include pictures from various angles, dimensions, and even product videos so shoppers can see exactly how to use your product. People tend to get more excited about benefits of a product than its features, so make sure you include a balance of both, where relevant. You can even go one step further by letting shoppers select products to compare their attributes side by side, like Best Buy does:

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 4.23.43 PM

Offering free returns can also ease concerns, because there’s a much lower risk to the shopper. This works especially well if you market the service as letting the shopper try your product before committing to it.


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