Although it’s true that online shopping is becoming more popular, there’s another thing that consumers are looking for more than ever before: Community and connection.
And that’s something that only brick and mortar businesses can uniquely provide. Brick and mortars are core contributors to a community and I believe they are going to play a big part in lifting their communities out of the financial crisis.
See, I believe brick and mortar businesses aren’t going out of style, they’re simply experiencing a renaissance! The brick and mortar businesses that will thrive in our new infrastructure will leverage the unique powers of both the in-person experience and the online one.
Let me explain.
Today, having a storefront simply isn’t enough.
In most places, businesses can’t rely solely on walk-in traffic anymore, and it’s becoming more common for consumers to research a place even before they step foot through the door. Because of this, your customer’s first impression of your business is, you guessed it, online! So it certainly is important to make sure your online presence is top-notch.
Nowadays, your online presence shows how accessible you are to your customers. And this doesn’t just mean having a website. Today’s most successful brick and mortar businesses also have a thriving presence on social media where they regularly interact with their customers, stay top of mind, and engage their community with referral programs, specials, and value-add offers.
With constant engagement online, you can get to know your customers better, drive home why they should choose you, and guide them in making an effective buying decision in-person or online so they get exactly what they want. This evolved approach to running your brick and mortar business is what will keep your sales skyrocketing while your online efforts feed your in-person sales and vice versa.
Don’t underestimate what your online efforts can do for your brick and mortar business. Businesses like allbirds have even grown in the reverse, starting online and later having storefronts, too!
The Power of Connection
In-person connection is something that can’t be replicated online.
Sure, online communities abound—and they’re certainly a great way to connect and serve—but there’s nothing quite like the human-to-human, eye-to-eye interaction that occurs in a store to build a loyal customer base and rock-solid relationships.
With busy schedules, pandemic closures, and mask-wearing, people are feeling lonelier than ever—even though we’re more connected technologically. With fewer face-to-face interactions and fewer opportunities to communicate verbally and non-verbally (so much non-verbal communication is lost while wearing a mask!), people are hungry for connection.
Remember, for many, the friendly exchange at your register might be the only interaction of the day. The shopper they bump into crossing your isles may be a new acquaintance. If a customer has a connection to your store that goes beyond a simple exchange of goods for money, what you offer will never be seen as a commodity.
So, how can you do this?
In-person, connect with your community by offering events and rewards programs. Train your front-of-house staff to recognize regular customers and call them by name, when possible. Stress the fact that their connection—no matter how fleeting—with a customer may be the customer’s only connection of the day, so make it count!
The Power of Community
Brick and mortar businesses also have the unique opportunity to create a strong and vibrant community around their store.
With the business as ground zero for new relationships between staff and customers, and customers with other customers, it becomes a hub of activity and a source of connection and inspiration for the community.
Again, your in-person community presence doesn’t take the place of your online one, especially now.
Your online efforts will be enhanced and optimized because your community will tell you exactly what they need—which takes the guesswork out of what you should do online in the first place.
That’s when online platforms like Shopifty and Zoom can come into play. Recently, the president of Shopify said that the pandemic sped up the shift to online shopping by ten years. This doesn’t mean that everyone is automatically going to Amazon, however. It does mean that your customers are more likely than ever to visit your online store, especially if they feel a special connection to the value and unique solutions you offer through connectedness and community.
When you have a strong community, you can reverse engineer the process of discovering what solutions to offer. Instead of providing a product or service and hoping to attract those who need it, you ask what your community needs then provide it.
For example, consider a local shoe store that started hosting a weekly 5k Fun Run around the neighborhood when customers expressed wanting to find local, like-minded running buddies.
Community members visit the store for a weekly fun run, make new friends, know the employees, and maybe even get a discount code after having completed their 10th run. Perhaps there’s even an online Facebook group for anyone who has attended a fun run so they can see the posted group photo and stay in touch about future events and get-togethers. And imagine what other local runners think when they see your big, happy community of joggers embarking on their weekly run from your store.
They’ll want in!
Another example is a local high-end pet food boutique. When the owner couldn’t allow people into her store due to the pandemic, she immediately elevated online communications and boosted her social media presence to let her customer base know about supply and specials. They immediately offered curbside pick-up, free home delivery (for the first time), and fun virtual events to keep their local pet lovers connected.
She asked her customers what they needed, remained accessible online through social media, and quickly added Shopify to their website.
These examples are just two of many ways to adapt quickly, provide solutions, grow your community, and grow a loyal customer base no matter how chaotic the times.
Dan Kennedy said it best: “Increase the connection and sense of community you have with your customers. Think relationships, not transactions. When times get tough, customers are less likely to leave a business they feel they have a genuine relationship with.”
If you have a brick and mortar business, connecting with and building a community for your local audience is well worth the effort. This is something that not even the Amazons of the world have the power to do!
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