Amazon’s plan to open its first physical store in NY in time for Christmas has put rise of clicks-and-mortar e-sellers back on the agenda. So what exactly does this trend mean? Well, the expression comes from the early days of the dotcom boom when it described offline retailers going online. Now in a new twist it is used to describe established e-sellers who are opening physical stores or pop shops. And with the largest pure-play of all experimenting with it many more are likely to follow but should you be considering it?
I have often contemplated the possibility of opening an offline store for the print-on-demand e-commerce company I manage but to be honest, it has been a low priority compared to growing the several tens of thousands online shops on our platform and 19 markets we currently operate in. However, we still need to be aware of the sales potential having several routes-to-market offers, and a multi-channel approach is likely to be an important part in our any company’s long-term strategy so here are four key factors to consider:
1. Customer experience is key
What matters now more than ever is ‘the experience’ either offline or online. With so many local and international online competitors able to steal your customer, a bad experience loses you customers. It is critical for offline retailers to provide a good online experience too otherwise the shopping experience is not complete for the consumer when they leave the store.
Online brands are as experiential as any offline brand, customers want good service and value so if you provide this your brand will grow by retention and recommendation faster online than any offline retailer can manage. At the same time offline retailers can provide poor service and value, meaning their brand will never grow.
Regardless of who you are; what you make or how you sell it – the focus should be on providing customers a seamless omni-channel experience.
2. An audience ready for shopping
An offline retail space would allow many brands, content and entertainment businesses that use our platform to reach an audience already in shopping mode. Shops can also sometimes give consumers a far stronger introduction to your brand. And in-store visits can become opportunities to drive re-purchase or incremental sales online.
3. Works with mobile
Tablets and smartphones are changing the way we shop. The experience of being able to curate and compare real products and complete the transaction later at your convenience is becoming increasingly important and can only be done with the addition of mobile technology and an offline offering.
4. Logistics and focus
The biggest challenge for online retailers considering an offline move is one of logistics and focus. At Spreadshirt, we have over 500 employees around the world all specialists in online marketing, e-commerce experience, mass customization and rapid direct-to-consumer fulfilment to 190 countries. Not one specialises in running a scaled offline retail business. There are thousands of differences between both channels from the thought process to supply chain, to how you manage staff to customer experience in the offline environment. And there are issues to consider such as shoplifting, stock damage and cash transactions. Deciding to move offline without taking into account all these considerations would be reckless! E-commerce retailers looking to make that move should really look to find an experienced retail partner before doing so.
The move to the high-street isn’t necessarily for everyone either, if as in Spreadshirt’s case – you deal with brands that are looking for global coverage, it would take hundreds of shops to match the millions of visitors we get via online search, sharing and white label shops. This also applies to many specialist e-commerce retailers who have a global reach or specialist markets that are not on the high-street.
Ultimately though, what matters is creating an integrated omni-channel approach that creates connections across multiple channels and drives value to consumers, as this is what will lead to business success.
Author: Philip Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt. Follow him on Twitter @PhilipRooke