3 ways retailers can make their stores work harder for them

Retail stores are assets. Not just in terms of sales, but for relationship-building, brand awareness, marketing and so much more.There's a reason that so many pure-play digital companies from Amazon to Warby Parker have opened stores over the years. Physical retail still holds a lot of power.Like many other businesses though, retail stores have faced enormous challenges recently as normal operations have had to reduce or cease entirely.As such, it's crucial that retailers are making these assets work as hard as possible for them in order to maximise returns on their investment.These three cost-effective strategies do exactly that - and every retailer should be implementing them.

1.     Get a grip on inventory

You can't sell what you don't know you have.Even within a single store stock is often split across different locations. There may be some on the shop floor, some in the storeroom, some on pallets waiting to be unpacked, some sat on fitting room rails, some behind tills as customers change their minds or return items.It can be hard for retailers to know what they have - and where it is.The need for proper inventory visibility has never been stronger though as retailers look to use in-store stock not only to sell to customers in person, but also to fulfil online orders through models like click-and-collect and ship from store.This is impossible without real-time information as to what is at a certain store location at any one time.Inventory shouldn't only be considered on an individual store basis though. If you have more than one store in your portfolio, then ideally staff should be able to look up the inventory of all of them.This means that in the case of an item a customer wants being out of stock in their local store, staff can look to see if another store has the product. They can then arrange either to have the item shipped to the customer's home from that store or for the customer to collect it if the store is nearby.These services are also more cost-effective to operate compared to shipping from a warehouse, but also typically quicker given the proximity of stores to customer homes.Walmart's new membership service Walmart+ is built on the concept of using the company's huge network of stores to ship many of the 160,000 items members can get delivered for free - a strategy that the company believes will make the service faster and more cost-effective than pure-play digital retailers.Another way to make the most of your in-store inventory is to connect it to the places where customers search for products in the first place.For many shoppers their buying journeys start online with search engines like Google, as well as the major marketplaces like Amazon.While search results are a competitive place, Google is making it increasingly easy for shops to make their local inventory visible in them by partnering with inventory tech company NearSt.This works in two ways. Firstly, customers who search for a particular store name can now also see a list of products that the store sells and whether they are in stock.Secondly, when customers search for a particular product in Google the top ad results can also include stock from local stores. The customer can see how far away the product is from their location and when they click on the ad can see details about stock and directions to the store.This could equate to a lot of sales as NearSt reports that 83% of shoppers would prefer to shop nearby instead of online if they know an item is available in a nearby store.

2.     Offer click-and-collect services

Click-and-collect. Buy online and pick-up in store (BOPIS).Whatever you call it, the model of buying a product online to collect from a physical retail store is one of the most well-known examples of omnichannel retail. It also achieves one of the best returns on investment, which is why every retailer should be offering it.As already mentioned, it's not just that it makes the store work harder by using its stock to fulfil online orders. It's that it costs significantly less than delivering the product to customers.Target has reported that in-store pickup and curbside collection, where customers drive up to the store and have their order brought out to them, costs 90% less than shipping an online order to a customer's home.Click-and-collect works on the basis of convenience. Customers don't like to wait around for deliveries or pay for items to come to them if they can help it. But they also don't want to go to stores and find what they want is out of stock.Click-and-collect bridges these two things. It's also convenient for the retailer as the customer is the one putting in the work to get their product.Not only does click-and-collect require minimal investment to implement, but it can also help retailers sell more in the process.Target has reported that online shoppers buy more once they try its curbside collection. It says that three quarters of curbside collection customers use the service again within three months and spend up to 25% more.That's a big increase for minimal effort from retailers. It's why even retailers who have in the past steered clear of traditional ecommerce like Aldi are now trialling click-and-collect services.

3.     Make the most of store staff

Staffing is among the biggest expenses when running a store. You will have invested time and money in training staff. You will have salaries to pay every month.It's therefore important to structure your retail business to make the most of the staff you put into stores.This means equipping them with the tools they need to perform at a higher level. One example is providing them with mobile devices that give them access to the same levels of information about products as a well-researched customer.It might seem like a small thing but with customers increasingly looking up what they want to buy online before they go into a store, the expectation is that staff will know more than them not less.These devices can also be used to quickly check information such as stock levels or where a product is located in the store, as well as to check-out customers without requiring them to queue at a till.Even when stores aren't open, or have fewer customer visiting, you can still make the most of your staff's expertise by connecting them with online shoppers who need support.Several tech companies are now offering different takes on live commerce. This can be everything from virtual personal shopping sessions to livestreaming with online customers to show them a product and answer questions. Staff can also engage with customers via chatbots.Some retailers are now looking at using live shopping technologies to extend operating hours. Dixons Carphone is trialling the idea of using its Birmingham training facility as a 'dark store' to sell to customers 24 hours a day.A similar approach could enable retailers to get more out of their stores by using them after hours for live selling. This could also create the opportunity to sell to shoppers in different time zones.The key to making retail stores work harder is to integrate them into all operational areas. Customer support can come from the store. Deliveries can be made from the store. Search results can come from the store.The physical retail store has power as a connector. It connects customers with what they want to buy whether that's directly via an in-person sale or collecting an order, or indirectly through the likes of virtual customer support. And it's in these connections that value lies.


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