It's easy to feel as if digital marketing platforms and big data tools are only useful for online businesses, but the fact of the matter is that even physical stores can extract value from the latest digital trends. They just have to be more strategic with how they do it.
Brick and mortar extracts value from digital tools
When you study the tumultuous relationship between brick and mortar and ecommerce, you can clearly see some distinct stages. At first, there was a sort of skepticism where brick-and-mortar retailers watched as entrepreneurs attempted to start selling online. The results were mixed and most physical retailers didn't believe they had much to fear.
The second stage was one of rivalry. As ecommerce giants like eBay and Amazon began to really take off and thrive, brick and mortar businesses began to get a little uneasy. They suddenly saw the potential in ecommerce and realized that it could spell doom for in-store shopping. This created a riff between the two sides of the market and rivalry was at an all-time high.
The third stage was characterized by compromise. Major brick-and-mortar brands like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Home Depot began developing online presences and started dipping their toes into the ecommerce waters. They discovered that it was possible to be profitable both online and offline.
Now, here we are in what some would classify as the fourth stage. Brick and mortar is experiencing a sort of resurgence and smaller companies — those not named Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, etc. — are realizing that there are options beyond investing in ecommerce. While that is an option, many physical retailers are choosing to stick with their core business while adopting some of the same digital marketing platforms and big data tools that online businesses have used to track behaviors, understand customers, enhance user experience and drive sales.
"We're in a brick-and-mortar renaissance where retailers are fully recognizing their challenges and opportunities in stores," Miami-area business expert Natalie Kotlyar says. "We're seeing incredible tech innovations and enhancements finally reach the store, helping retailers realize true seamless omnichannel strategies. Those who aren't keeping up risk being left behind."
But it's not just about omnichannel strategies. While some retailers are going this route, others are simply studying what ecommerce companies are doing and discovering ways to apply similar principles in their own businesses. And it certainly doesn't hurt that, for the first time ever, some of those digital marketing platforms and big data tools that ecommerce companies have traditionally had the luxury of using are finally accessible to brick-and-mortar businesses.
4 ways physical retailers are using digital resources
It may seem strange that brick and mortar would come to rely on digital marketing and big data in order to thrive, but that's the new world order. In order to be successful in 2017 and beyond, physical retailers must recognize and seize the opportunities given to them.
Having said that, let's check out some of the specific ways brick-and-mortar businesses are using digital resources to thrive in today's marketplace:
1. Study (foot) traffic numbers
Online business owners and digital marketers have long had access to robust tools that allow them to study website and landing page traffic numbers in an effort to understand where customers are coming from, when they're visiting, and what they're doing. Well, brick-and-mortar businesses now have tools that offer similar functionality.
Tools like SAP Digital Consumer Insight allow retailers to "access anonymized mobile data that shows how many consumers pass through a chosen location each hour and where they come from."
With a tool like SAP Digital Consumer Insight, physical retailers are finally able to unlock mobile data and understand who's visiting their stores, where they're coming from, and how they compare to customers visiting other locations. This leads to better targeted advertising and more precise location planning (for future stores).
2. Change prices quickly
Rapid, real-time price changes are something that ecommerce companies have had access to for years. As a matter of fact, Amazon has been said to implement as many as 2.5 million price changes per day. This helps them stay on top of demand and optimize prices to meet the changing needs and desires of customers.
Brick-and-mortar stores now have access to similar technology. Known as dynamic pricing or price intelligence software, physical retailers now have access to tools that allow them to adjust the price of an item in real-time. In fact, Walmart now changes the prices in its physical stores as often as 50,000 times per month. This is made possible through the use of digital signage software and predictive analytics.
3. Optimize in-store shopping experience
User experience is a big buzzword in the online marketing world. Enhancing user experience on landing pages or product pages could mean the difference between a high bounce rate and a high conversion rate. And while it's comparatively easy for digital marketers to track and improve user experience, brick-and-mortar companies have long been left in the dark in regards to how they can better understand how their customers shop. But this is all changing.
Nordstrom is one company leading the charge towards understanding how customers shop and using these insights to enhance what some would call the in-store "user experience."
"The company uses big data to enhance customer experiences and is continually experimenting with data-driven initiatives," says Trips Reddy, the customer marketing director at Umbel. "By using new technologies like sensors and Wi-Fi signals, the company tracks who comes to their stores, which parts of the store they visit, for how long, and other customer behaviors inside their stores."
In much the same way that an ecommerce company would study the data and make functional and aesthetic changes to their site based on how customers interact with it, Nordstrom is beginning to tweak in-store layout and presentation after mining the data provided by these new technologies.
4. Improve customer service
For customers, one of the biggest benefits of shopping online is the ability to check online reviews, browse in-depth product descriptions, reference FAQ pages, and chat with company representatives. Finally, brick-and-mortar businesses have a way to improve customer service by using digital tools.
Neiman Marcus is one of the leaders in this area. "By using sensors to track customers throughout stores, their app lets them know about preferred sales associates currently in the store, store events, new products, promotions and the latest trends," Reddy explains. "Customers can also select favorite products, make appointments, leave messages for associates and scan QR codes in the store to get product information."
The future of brick and mortar
The future of brick and mortar is bright. That's something that couldn't have been said in full confidence five or ten years ago. But, when you consider that physical retailers finally have access to the same digital tools that ecommerce businesses have been using for years, it becomes clear that brick and mortar isn't getting left in the dust any time soon.
As Kotlyar says, we're in a brick-and-mortar "renaissance." Technology has allowed for a rebirth of sorts and savvy retailers will seize the opportunity to grow their brands and reconnect with customers in meaningful ways.