Author: Poornima Mohandas

Time to read: 2 minutes

 

Online retail in India is just an abysmal 1.6% of total retail sales as per the World Bank, way below 15% in China and around 14% globally. No wonder, online retailers like Urban Ladder, FirstCry, and Nykaa, to name just a few, have brick and mortar experience centres and stores in addition to their significant online presence, allowing customers to touch and feel everything from sofas to lipsticks.

 

No one can experience how comfortable a sofa is without sitting on it. Just like no one can tell how a fragrance actually smells no matter how vivid the online product description. And it’s anybody’s guess if a shoe you ordered online will fit well.

 

Take the case of e-commerce behemoth, Amazon. The online giant continues to invest in brick and mortar stores. After running several US bookstores –Borders and Book World to name just a few– out of business, the company ironically set up 17 physical bookstores across the US from Seattle to New York. Closer home in India, Amazon has invested in multiple physical retail formats namely, the Future group, Shoppers Stop, and More supermarkets.

 

Nothing can beat the brand visibility, trust, and experience of a brick and mortar store.
 

Now, let’s look at how you can make the most of your physical stores.

 

1. It’s All About the Experience

Whether it is the Van Heusen store on 100 feet road, Bangalore or the Nike store on 5th Avenue, Manhattan they both offer personalised shopping experiences, using technology to unleash creativity and solve problems.

 
Van Heusen’s Fit Suite offers virtual trials giving customers 20 different looks along with fit and size recommendations. Now who doesn’t like to be pampered like that? At the Nike Flagship Store you can customize your sneakers and schedule trial room sessions on the mobile app to skirt the lines. Fab India’s experience centers look to convert a short shopping trip into a day out with a wellness center, a kids’ zone, and a cafe offering organic food.

 
While you may not go all out to curate experiences like these brands, you want to make sure you tick off the basics such as:

  • Clear lines of sight on your shop floor
  • Well-trained, knowledgeable, and attentive store staff
  • Efficiently managed billing counters.

 
2. Encourage Customers to Touch and Feel Your Products

Have you ever bought a pair of trousers online only to be disappointed when you tried it on? You are not alone. Trousers, shoes, dresses can all be tricky when it comes to fit and style. That partly explains why the rate of return for e-commerce players in India in certain product categories is as high as 40%.

 
Apart from encouraging customers to touch, feel, and try on your products, you can also:

  • Make it easy for customers to discover new products with smart visual merchandising
  • Collect product feedback from customers
  • Invite loyal customers to preview a new product line

 

When buying particularly high-value items like furniture, customers again want to touch and feel the fabric and comfort of their sofas and wing chairs. Look at seven-year old, online furniture brand, Urban Ladder which has an online catalogue of over 2,500 items and registers about 1,000 orders a day. Three years back, the Bangalore-based furniture brand decided to set up physical stores in addition to their online presence. It now has 12 stores across New Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune, and Chennai and has committed to invest $10-15 million in physical retail. First Cry, Pepperfry, Ziwame, Nykaa are all investing heavily in offline stores despite having a strong presence online. The physical stores aim to drive sales and engage the customer at a deeper level.

 
3. Guide Customers to Discover New Brands and Products

When customers walk into your store, they want to discover new brands, new product lines, and new styles. If you have well-trained and knowledgeable store assistants, they can guide the customer in this interesting customer journey to upsell and cross-sell new products and accessories. Studies have shown that nearly 40% of consumers feel that sales associates with deep and extensive product knowledge improve their shopping experiences considerably.

 
4. Work Towards Phygital

Kishore Biyani recently spoke about how he sees the physical and digital formats merging. “Both have come in different eras and in another 3-4 years, it will become phygital,” he said. Phygital = physical + digital. In the phygital world, online and physical retail will not compete with each other but actually support each other through a symbiotic relationship, an environment where one entity benefits from the presence of the other. The ultimate nirvana would be one unified view of the customer, their tastes, spending habits, and by extension an ability to give them the product they desire at the moment they want it through the channel of their preference.

 
Your brick and mortar stores are your most important asset. Invest in them to transform customer transactions into experiences. Future proof your brand by encouraging customers to touch, feel, and try your products, collect product feedback, guide customers to discover new products and accessories, and work towards a phygital world. If you have more ideas you are experimenting with please share them with us in the Comments section.