How brands with physical shops can be the winners in the digital commerce of the future

As e-commerce continues to grow and more and more customers get used to shopping online, are physical shops doomed? Are we looking at the beginning of the end of boutique experiences as we know them? We think not – as long as brands with physical shops are up to the challenge.

Perhaps you could say that we’re at a tipping point as far as shopping experiences are concerned. As consumers, we are spoilt for choice and can often choose whether to browse a physical shop with the multisensory experience that entails, or to go online and add the items we need to a virtual basket. And while the latter sounds, and indeed can be, incredibly convenient, both experiences still serve a purpose – but the choice makes us as customers more picky.

Does your brand have physical boutiques? Then we invite you to consider how well you offer your customers the below added values – benefits that can make you stand out and ensure that another brand, which only trades online, doesn’t win over the customers before you do.

Customer knowledge

When a customer walks into your shop, do you understand their needs and know how to help them? If you do, this can really set you apart and make the physical shopping experience far superior to that of a web shop. This might mean, as an optician, knowing which questions to ask in order to figure out what prescription you’re looking at and what products are available to the customer. In a shoe shop, it might mean having the equipment to measure a child’s foot accurately, and the inter-personal skills to make that experience as stress free as possible for the child and their parents. Perhaps you’re really good at making women feel comfortable when getting measured for the correct bra size, or you’re seriously into running and know exactly which trainers to suggest to a customer after analysing their running style and pronation. In an ideal world, the customer doesn’t need to ask for your input – because to you, what help they need is a given.

Solution focus

If there’s a problem, are you willing and able to go the extra mile to solve it? Say it turns out that your customer is overdue an eye test but they’re going on holidays next week and your schedule is already full, or maybe the child really wants the blue shoes but you’re out of stock in their particular size. What do you do? The solution depends on the circumstances, naturally, but this is exactly what we mean by solution focus. Can you think on your feet and reframe the problem to make the experience a positive one for your customer? The case of the shoes makes a perfect example of where the combination of physical boutique and web shop is at its most powerful. If the blue shoes are available in the right size in your web shop, why not help the customer put through the order right there and then, and make sure that they get free delivery as a nice gesture?

Customer focus

Each individual customer has their unique needs, but some have more unusual needs than others. Are you able to help a visually impaired customer? Do you offer a tailoring service? What about payment plans for bigger purchases? Different sectors are likely to come across different challenges, but the key to customer-focused service is in making an effort to remove the particular obstacles each customer faces when trying to make a purchase – and not just because you want them to go ahead with the purchase, but because they’ll remember how you made them feel, and they’ll come back for more of the same.

We’ve argued before that web shops have more in common with bricks-and-mortar shops than most people think, and this reasoning goes both ways. What it comes down to is this: regardless where a customer goes, they will expect to be well looked after, and they’ll associate the experience with your brand. A web shopping experience should offer all the wonderful UX and digital customer support it possibly can, while a physical boutique experience must make it worth the trip by offering browsing possibilities and service with extra everything. Ideally, your brand should offer both. By combining the strengths of digital systems and processes with the trustworthy, helpful qualities of real human beings, we can save our physical high streets – and you can save your physical shop.