From In-store Sales to E-commerce and Back Again

There’s a long-standing belief out there that online shopping will eventually be the death of the brick-and-mortar business. Every year we half expect to hear that more traditional businesses have given up the ship. Every year, that is, except this one. For the first time in recent memory, the proverbial “online versus onsite” script has flipped. So what changed?

In years past, e-commerce had a plethora of advantages over traditional stores. The shopping experience was simple and personalized, prices were often lower, customers had access to feedback and reviews, and at-home delivery meant you never had to brave the crowds. It’s taken a little time and a lot of innovation, but brick-and-mortar shops can now offer each and every one of these digital benefits, and have even come up with a few advantages of their own. Here’s how they’re making it happen.

Embracing mobile technology. For a while there, sales associates were at a disadvantage when faced with a customer’s mobile device and the data it offered its user. Many retailers with service-focused store formats have been hard at work developing role-specific apps that give their sales staff quick access to the same reviews and price comparisons that customers use, enabling their associates to deliver added value to customer-led research.

This can include associate-driven mobile point-of-sale (POS) functionality and immediate insights into inventory levels at neighboring stores. Customers get the products they want quickly and easily, aided face to face by associates who can schedule a pickup or delivery as the situation warrants.

In-store exclusives and improved service. Sales staff aren’t the only folks being offered new solutions. For customers, store-specific apps can be used to replace paper coupons, offer exclusive on-site offers, and even allow shoppers to page an associate if they need assistance. With the introduction of NFC (Near-Field Communications) coupled with new technology such as beacons and the pinpointing of locations inside a store, a whole new world of data is giving brick-and-mortar companies the same insights into customer behavior that online retailers have had for years. When customers migrates through the store, clicks, selects, scans a QR code, or hovers over an item in a store’s app, this ‘physical browsing’ information can be analyzed in order to get to know the customer better.

Personalizing the shopping experience. Using the new wealth of data that they’re receiving, brick-and-mortar stores can offer each of their customers a truly personal shopping experience that goes beyond traditional segmentation. No longer are customers just “hat lovers,” but instead, “hat lovers who often buy on Tuesdays and also like red wine.”

By building complex and ever-growing customer profiles, store owners can hold events specific to each segment of their community’s interests—for instance, a Tuesday evening wine tasting to showcase a new winter hat collection, offered exclusively to those customers who would get a kick out of it.

Add to all of these advancements the one advantage brick-and-mortar stores have always had―that shoppers can physically interact with products before they buy―and you’ll see how the allure of the traditional store has never been stronger.

The tug-of-war between online and on-site sales is far from over, and both sides are evolving their business models rapidly. We are on the cusp of witnessing the birth of a truly unified customer experience, where the line between e-commerce and traditional sales fades away.

If you’d like to see which of the above solutions might work for your business, online or off, explore the ways Microsoft Dynamics is empowering modern retail. Just looking to brush up on the lay of the land? Download our factsheet. For an even more in-depth look at what Microsoft is doing to empower retailers, swing by our booth at NRF 2016.