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How offline retail is evolving to compete with ecommerce

Retail is changing at breakneck speed. While it’s become pretty clear that brick and mortar is here to stay, it’s becoming much more difficult for brands to compete in a saturated omnichannel retail market. In fact, 92 percent of American’s retail shopping still occurs offline, meaning offline retailers that try to move at the pace of the industry stand to pick up a good number of customers and potential revenue.

So what are the ways that retailers are making strides to change for an evolving market? Some of the biggest involve technologies deployed to help support business functions and increase customer insights. Others are exploring the use of non-traditional shopping experiences combined with omnichannel strategies. In most cases, savvy retailers that are doing well deploy a number of tools and strategies to stay ahead of the curve. The following ways are some of the best for thriving in the era of e-Commerce.

Customer insights through affordable tech

Customer data insights were previously unattainable for anyone that wasn’t a retail giant. In many cases even larger retail companies were hesitant to deploy certain technologies because of the budget risks associated with such a decision. The good news is, a number of tech innovators have been working on iterating, improving, and making different data technologies cheaper. This means everyone from Target to the hyperlocal craft shop can gain insights about their customers.

Michael Brand, CEO and founder of Dor, a company that provides affordable door counters and analytics to retailers, shares, “Retailers with storefronts traditionally rely on sales data to help identify trends and predict customer behavior, but this data only shows one piece of the overall health of their business. Think of it this way: if an e-commerce retailer opened an online business and didn’t install Google Analytics to track how well their site visitors were converting, we’d call them crazy. Many brick-and-mortar retailers, however, are missing out on collecting this same type of data that their online competitors track religiously.”

Hyperlocal

Big and small retailers alike are recognizing that winning in the brick and mortar game requires local specialization of everything from product offerings to store and service design. Why? Because when it comes to generic products, customers can easily go online. In the past, people would go to a major retailer in a new town because they knew what it would carry. Now people expect to be surprised when they walk in. They expect to find something they rarely get to experience in their online shopping efforts.

That’s why mega retailers like Target and Walmart have opened different store formats for city centers, and corner stores, while other brands have opted for popup experiences in various cities to help drive traffic to their online stores.

Omnichannel

These days the number of touchpoints a customer has with a brand significantly increases the likelihood that they’ll choose to shop that brand. That’s why companies are picking up on the fact that they need to evolve their strategy. Brand explains how some have struggled to do so, “Many large legacy retailers built out a number of locations in the past 20-30 years that is now unsustainable, and have had trouble innovating in-store and online, making their service experience clunky and impersonal. Other large retailers who are more agile haven’t had this problem.”

The key is to remain lean, test new strategies, and fail fast. Countless companies commit to some new enterprise level application that is supposed to revolutionize the business, yet fail to recognize when it hasn’t delivered any outcomes. Companies also have to consider their aptitude for using new technology before signing on.

Predictions

While some people are claiming that in-store retail is on its way out, the truth is a lot of people still enjoy a brick and mortar shopping experience. It’s not to say that brick and mortar won’t be different in the next five years, but it would also be wrong to say that it will be defunct or gone altogether.

Brand puts it this way, “A lot of retail ‘survival’ can depend on company culture and leadership and how readily leadership can adapt to customer demand. We have plenty of hope for large chains who are willing to innovate and experiment. When you aren’t open to taking risks, you’re no longer serving your customers.”

Companies that are enthusiastic about the future of the industry that can match their enthusiasm with innovation stand to create success in this ‘new retail’ landscape.

This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.