How to use offline success to create an online presence

A true omnichannel strategy makes the most of offline not just online

Consider the main ingredients to a sale when a customer is in your place of business. You have product placements that suggest what a customer should buy, education on the products and services you are selling, the ability to experience your brand firsthand, and most important, people available to educate buyers and make a sale. All these make up the customer experience, and digital is just another component.

Clearly, bricks-and-mortar businesses that aren’t yet capitalizing on their digital channels were successful before the internet took over their industries. There are reasons for that success, and those can give you an edge over your internet-born competitors.

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Digitizing Your Offline Strategy

A successful online strategy shouldn’t be a matter of abandoning old tactics and replacing them with a trend. It should be a process of using the digital experience as an extension of what has worked to differentiate your business in the offline marketplace.

This approach ensures your organization’s digital efforts extend the unique customer experience that buyers look for and allows you to capitalize on an asset any internet-only business will have difficulty competing with. The customer experience matters more than you might think. Sixty-four percent of people think that customer experience is more important than price in their choice of a brand, and three out of four customers are more likely to visit your store if your online information is useful.

Digital success is crucial for an organization’s overall gain. Seventy-two percent of young shoppers do research online before purchasing in a store. While it might seem obvious that a poor digital strategy results in poor digital sales, the real impact is that a poor digital strategy will result in poor offline sales. In fact, 36 cents out of every dollar spent in a physical store are influenced by the business’ digital presence, and digital influence leads 22 percent of shoppers to spend more in stores.

The Digital Difference

Customers are exposed to too many factors in their decision-making to not take digital into account. Consistency is key, and your website and surrounding digital marketing are great mediums through which to replicate and promote what your top sales agents have been doing on a one-on-one basis for years.

Take Zappos, for example, which acknowledged the offline experience in its exclusively online business. This company revolutionized the online shoe-buying experience by offering free returns and shipping. True, it’s not a brick-and-mortar business, but it essentially digitized one of the main values a storefront experience provided to consumers better than online-only retailers. Other businesses that have successfully gone digital — like Warby Parker, Tesla, and Target — have done so by replicating a few key elements of the bricks-and-mortar experience.

Home Depot has always had a location-based strategy, providing easy access to building materials and supplies. Essentially becoming the nation’s local hardware store. Its online experience offers the best of both worlds: Users can instantly see available inventory across all stores and select whether to purchase online and have it shipped to their homes, or they can purchase online and designate items they need immediately to be picked up at the store. It has extended its product catalog to enable more options for its customers without having to increase the goods carried in its physical stores. And buyers can elect to pick up the items not carried in their local stores to save on shipping charges.

Duplicate What Works

Before any bricks-and-mortar organization invests in their digital strategy, though, they should remember what makes them successful despite digital. Focus on what sets you apart. Where is your organization demonstrably different from the competition? Find ways to make the differentiator the most evident part of your digital strategy.

Ensuring that you have proper analytics in place will allow you to consistently monitor and adapt your digital efforts. Digital makes this information involuntary and honest in terms of seeing which tactics yielded conversions and which did not. And always leave an option for customers to interact with you the old-fashioned way. The online experience should complement the in-store experience — not compete with it. Your customers will interact with you the way they’re the most comfortable.

Once you’ve established a digital foundation that sets your business up for success, replicate these four brick-and-mortar elements in your digital experience to keep customers coming back — both in-store and online:

  • Maintain human interaction. One of the key elements to an in-store customer experience is interaction with individuals from your organization. This component defines personal interaction and helps in building real-time trust with the consumer. A great way to translate this to digital is by offering online chat on your site.

When implementing this, just as you don’t want your sales reps to follow around and annoy customers, the chat should be something customers can easily access if they want to — not something that pops up on every page they’ve closed out of.

  • Enable product interaction. The second major benefit of the offline experience is the ability to interact in-person with the product. As discussed previously, companies like Zappos and Warby Parker are sending the product to consumers to interact with before they’ve been purchased.

However, there are ways to do this without the overhead of shipping costs. Giving customers 360-degree product tours that allow them to zoom in on materials, view multiple images, and watch videos can easily simulate product interaction.

  • Give recommendations and advice. Many consumers are still inclined to visit physical stores for answers to their specific questions and recommendations based on their unique needs.

Two approaches can support this need digitally. The “recommended products” feature can be helpful, but today’s educated consumer, who understands that recommendations are likely based on products being pushed, doesn’t always trust it.

Taking a lesson from Amazon, using helpful features like “buyers also viewed” and “customer reviews” gives consumers even more information to use in making decisions than they would get from an in-store experience.

The second approach is to be consistent in reminding customers how close your physical store is and that you have experts on-site who can help them. Driving a customer to your physical store creates not only a captive lead, but also a qualified one because that customer is coming in after researching other options online.

  • Get personal. A customer who frequents your store and is greeted by familiar faces will feel a connection, especially when those faces remember the customer’s last purchase and make recommendations that match his style. Customers shopping a brand in Chicago are likely going to have very different needs from customers shopping the same brand in Los Angeles, so take those person differences into account.

Tools like Optimizely make it possible for your site to feature umbrellas on your homepage when it’s raining in that visitor’s location, and simple IP detection can localize your messaging and product offerings. Using such third-party services make it possible to leverage prior actions a customer had on your site to alter her experience to cater to her interests in the future.

Digital is mandatory, and with it comes new ways to market your company and your products. But you should incorporate what made you successful offline to create a truly well-rounded digital strategy and maintain your edge on the competition.

This article was originally published at SmartInsights.com, by author Ted Novak.

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