Despite the prophesied brick-and-mortar annihilation at the hand of online retail, the idea that e-commerce is rapidly overtaking traditional retail is going the way of the Mayan apocalypse.
Small business owners need not worry, your stores likely won't fall victim to an e-commerce tide any time soon, according to the Harvard Business Review. Many of the doomsday warnings ignore key factors which actually paint a fairly optimistic picture for the future of brick-and-mortar. For example, half of the rapidly growing volume of e-commerce sales are actually going to companies with physical locations as well.
Brick-and-mortar stores still control the vast majority of retail sales in the United States, eMarketer found. In 2013, the total volume of traditional retail sales hit $4.27. E-commerce sales totaled 5.8 percent of retail revenue last year. This is why some stores are turning to omnichannel retail.
Omnichannel retail provides the best shopping experience
Omnichannel retail is rapidly trending among businesses looking to create a better shopping experience for customers, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Businesses are increasingly putting systems into place that allow consumers to engage in multiple channels – physical, mobile or desktop – while making their purchases. The Internet at customers' fingertips has changed the way that people shop.
For example, there are customers who walk into a physical store, then research the products on the shelves as they browse using a mobile device typically categorized as a phone or tablet, the publication explained. Some stores feature pick-up areas, where consumers can stop to grab an item purchased via mobile device or computer.
In an environment where "the end is near" is a common refrain for small business owners as online retail takes a bigger share of the earnings every year, it will be important to develop omnichannel strategies in order to survive. Seamless integration of digital and physical stores will serve as an effective way to assure advantages over other retailers, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Some e-commerce retailers have even taken to opening small physical stores, in a slightly bizarre and fascinating reversal of trends. BaubleBar spent years as a strictly e-commerce company before opening a physical location, according to The Boston Globe. When the online jewelry retailer opened its physical store a couple interesting trends emerged to co-founder Daniella Yacobovsky. Shoppers began to pick up unflashy pieces that didn't sell as well online. In addition, women bought jewelry that could be worn together – all of which led consumers to purchase three times as much in-store as they would online.
''Having the opportunity to touch and feel our product is a big value,'' Yacobovsky told The Boston Globe.
The merging of two worlds
With community banks rolling out mobile banking and online clothing retailers opening brick-and-mortar stores, the lines between physical and digital have become blurred, instead of one taking over the other.
There are a few steps that small businesses can take in order to take advantage of, rather than get crushed by, the e-commerce tide. Entrepreneur listed several strategies that can be co-opted in order create an omnichannel shopping experience.
First, the publication suggests eliminating any price differences between physical and digital stores. Keep prices similar so that consumers can choose where they'd like to shop. Next, devise easy return policies for online purchases. This means allowing customers to buy products online, and then return in-store if they change their mind.
It is then important to define the role of the physical store, the publication noted. Customers can purchase nearly anything online. They will need a good reason to leave their computer and head over. Find a way to offer the consumer a unique experience in order to draw them in.
When implementing an omnichannel retailing strategy, don't compare in-store sales against online sales. Instead, track sales overall and determine the habits of customers. Use this information to enhance the business and increase profits – both online and physical.
Next time the doomsday warnings come pouring in, simply keep in mind omnichannel retail. The end isn't near – it is more of a blend.