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Brick & Mortar: Driving in-store sales in a digital age


According to analytics reports from Adobe and RetailNext, online sales trumped bricks-and-mortar over Black Friday weekend and the trend looks to continue throughout the 2015 holiday season.

This signifies a shift that’s been obvious for quite some time — consumers are going digital. Does this mean the brick-and-mortar retailer is dying a slow death? Not a chance.

First, let’s distinguish the difference between shopping and buying. The internet is a great buying tool. Lots of information, consumer reviews, price comparisons, tech specs, etc. This is where physical retail has fallen down over the last several years. With the advent of portable technology, it’s often easier for a shopper to get more reliable product information from her smartphone than from a sales associate in the store. That’s if she can find an associate at all!

On the other hand, shopping in stores is about discovery, it’s about inspiration, it’s social and it’s physical. In other words, shopping brick-and-mortar is human.

The best retailers are embracing this new reality. Technology has given brands and physical stores more opportunities than ever to identify, engage, retain and convert shoppers. It’s up to the retailers to make sure their houses are in order when their guests come to town - they need to have the right products (and enough of them to satisfy demand) on the shelves.


A 2014 study conducted for the Coca-Cola Retail Research Council found that the average out-of-stock rate in supermarkets was 8.2% of items in the categories studied on a typical afternoon. Performance was even worse on advertised items (15%), which is pretty bad seeing as these are often marquee, in-demand items that draw many shoppers into the store.

Consumers refuse to buy an alternative 34% of the time, postponing their purchase or taking their dollars elsewhere. Add it up, and out-of-stocks can divert a whopping $7 to $12 billion of sales to competitors in the supermarket industry.

Driving a meaningful retail experience is all in the execution - surprising and delighting customers at every touch point. In order to compete with e-commerce giants like Amazon, which offer the ultimate in convenience, stores need to come armed with fully stocked and well-merchandised shelves, not just on Black Friday, but on a Monday in May or a Tuesday in September.

Improved Experience

In addition to ensuring shelves are stocked and displays look the way they are supposed to, retailers can focus on improving the overall customer experience to keep loyal customers coming back. Real, live salespeople can help. Sure, Amazon suggests additional items via algorithm when you add something to your cart – but that’s not quite as helpful as having a seasoned electronics expert in the flesh telling a shopper that if they’re buying a new camera, they also might want to check out some lenses and the perfect tripod for the model they’re looking at.

Some stores are doing an excellent job of cultivating loyalty through a superior customer experience.


Wegmans, for example, has constructed a culture of putting the customer first. Wegmans’ employees are proactive and highly informed – and they make themselves readily available to help shoppers find what they want, offering knowledgeable recommendations along the way. They also engage customers with new technologies, like an interactive recipe and shopping list feature on their website, and an iPhone app that helps shoppers organize their list on an aisle by aisle basis. Wegmans stores are beautifully laid out, with an atmosphere that invites customers to relax and take their time. Wegmans makes grocery shopping an enjoyable experience, not a chore.


More and more stores are viewing technology as something that enhances the in-store experience. Beauty retailer Sephora, for example, took cues from YouTube when it debuted a new store format last month. How-to videos have exploded in popularity among make up enthusiasts, and Sephora has been paying attention.

In its San Francisco store, Sephora has designated stations called the “Beauty Workshop,” where up to 12 customers at a time can watch video tutorials, practice with new products and take a class from a Sephora team member.


Another retailer taking the high-tech road to an improved customer experience is Kroger.

In 2012, the grocer began using a technology platform that uses sensors and predictive analytics to feed store managers real-time data about when long lines are expected and cashiers are needed – before pile ups begin. Since then, wait times at the cash register have been reduced from four minutes to less than 30 seconds. It’s a genius move – what shopper doesn’t want to spend less time in line at the grocery store?

It’s time for all retailers to adopt a new mantra when it comes to driving in-store sales in the age of e-commerce - shoppers might not remember the sale or promotion you offered during the holidays, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.

Don’t make them feel frustrated because they came to your store and couldn’t find what they wanted because their favorite brand’s shelf was a mess or, even worse, out-of-stock. Any retailer can create a shopping environment within their brick-and-mortar locations that adds value for customers. And when customers feel like you made their lives easier or better, they’ll come back again and again.

Ron Magliocco is the chief customer officer of, whose on-demand retail intelligence and merchandising services empower consumer brands to increase sales. He can be reached at [email protected].

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