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Expert round-up: How to increase customer engagement in brick and mortar stores

The retail sector seems to slowly get back on track after the hit it received during the pandemic. While online retailers saw a rise in sales, many brick-and-mortar stores were closed or restricted. 

People preferred to shop online and receive their orders right at the front steps. However, this is beginning to change because people miss something that only physical stores can offer: the complete shopping experience. 

In this expert round-up we asked retail experts, brand managers, and marketing specialists:

  • how can brick and mortar stores increase customer engagement;
  • what shopper marketing tactics to use;
  • and what part does technology play in customer engagement.

Their answers will help you find the right mix for your shopper marketing strategy, learn more about what customers are really looking for while shopping in-store, and how to put technology to great use. 

Customer engagement: Brick and mortar retailers vs eCommerce platforms

In simple words, customer engagement shows the relationship between a consumer and a brand/retailer. However, this is much more than that. Customer engagement is the one that can make it or break it when it comes to sales. If shoppers are not engaged while in-store, they will definitely move on to your competitor and leave your store empty-handed. 

While eCommerce stores have so many options to interact with shoppers and attract them, brick and mortar stores are left with little to no options. However, physical stores have something special that eCommerce platforms can’t replicate: real-life interactions. 

“The most significant benefit that physical retailers have over e-retailers is the ability to communicate with consumers in a variety of ways: tactile, visual, auditory, and even human. Physical stores can have something that online retailers cannot: the ability for consumers to touch, feel, and try out goods while still engaging in their surroundings. It must be worthwhile for them to get up and away from their screens.”

Chana Charach, Managing Editor at Income.ca

Like Chana Charach mentioned above, stores need to take advantage of their ability to trigger consumers on different levels. The whole atmosphere of the store plays an important role in the purchasing process. 

As you know, shopping is an emotional process and every purchase decision is based on emotion. 

“Make sure your store is playing a very focused and complementary role as part of your total shopping ecosystem.”- Bruce Vierck, Partner at The Retaility Group

Another important thing to remember is that your store is part of the shopping ecosystem, it is a piece that plays a role. You need to know and understand how your store can fill a gap and offer shoppers what they are looking for. 

"Increasing customer engagement relies first and foremost on knowing what the customer wants, and how to deliver it to them. At present, this is even more challenging and perhaps interesting than usual, as we begin to come out of the other side of the pandemic. Shoppers are keen to return to stores and get back to “normal,” but many people also still have concerns about safety and the risk inherent in this.”

Polly Kay, Senior Marketing Manager at English Blinds

While the pandemic seems to be one foot out the door, people still have safety concerns. Before COVID-19 customer engagement meant offering customers amazing experiences. Now, you need to add a layer of hygiene and safety to those experiences. 

Shopper marketing - the best type of marketing for increasing customer engagement

Shopper marketing is a “younger” form of marketing compared to retail and trade marketing. While traditional marketing focuses on the product and selling more, shopper marketing makes the customer the center of attention. By using shopper marketing, you have the opportunity to increase customer engagement and to make shoppers feel special. 

There are different shopper marketing tactics that you can try to see if they are a great match for your store and your shoppers, of course. 

“Video is so effective at the point of purchase that shoppers take their phones into physical stores to check product reviews on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. In fact, in-store shoppers use video at a rate of 55% according to research conducted by Google. This means that out of every two shoppers that enter your store, at least one of them will research videos about your products.” - Nichole Elizabeth DeMer, Chief Marketing Officer at Reeview.app

While you might think that in-store marketing and promotions are your only options, you need to take into account the channels shoppers use to research your products. Social media is booming right now and while you might not perform digital marketing, you still need to have a social media presence.

“This social media engagement is driving more traffic to their socials, website, and footfall to their store. With the popularity of video and influencer marketing skyrocketing, this type of "photogenic" brand marketing will only increase.” - Clare Jones, Outreach Manager at Custom Neon

Your social media presence might come from an unexpected source: your customers. Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful type of marketing. By making your promotions “photogenic”, as Clare Jones mentioned, you have the opportunity to transform your shoppers into your biggest advocates. 

An in-store marketing solution like Tokinomo is definitely a showstopper. Many in-store promotions implemented with Tokinomo went viral on social media thanks to shoppers who filmed and shared them. 

“Personalization is the key to great shopper marketing. Shoppers need to feel respected and understood by marketers, and they should feel surrounded by that "love" across social media, digital commerce, and in-store. General clearance sales won't be as effective as offering a specific product or service to a specific individual as a means of coaxing them into a store.” 

Bruce Vierck, Partner at The Retaility Group

Providing a unified brand experience is another thing you should consider when it comes to shopper marketing and customer engagement. If you have a multi-channel or an omnichannel retail approach, then your need to make sure that your online messages and promotions match the ones in the store. 

Offline methods of marketing should include giving more options, reducing costs, and offering discounts. To increase consumer engagement within the store, incorporate the use of QR codes to help aid consumers to scan and pay by themselves, keep distance from each other, and save their time and yours.”

 Colin Barker, Co-Founder of Filtersmart.com

Convenience is key for shoppers in stores. Since eCommerce platforms are a convenient option, you should also incorporate technology and find ways to make shopping a seamless experience for your customers. 

How can technology help increase customer engagement

Technology is evolving and it can help retailers and brands attract attention, find more info, and monitor customer data. 

“The biggest role of technology is to help the shopper engage in a seamless experience. The best tools for increasing engagement will be an optimal combination of human-centered and technology-driven.”

Bruce Vierck, Partner at The Retaility Group

Technology shouldn’t take over, but it should be included as part of the whole shopping experience. Human interaction is still important and it can’t be replaced entirely by technology. However, retail tech can help you increase customer engagement because it offers shoppers more options and it can let them be in charge. 

“The integration of tech has given brick and mortar shoppers far more control over their shopper experience, and the level of contact they have with others. It is easy to assume that replacing human contact with tech compromises engagement, but this is far from inevitable; the aim is to achieve engagement between customer and brand, not a customer and individual worker, notwithstanding said worker being part of the brand.”

Polly Kay, Senior Marketing Manager at English Blinds

Adopting new technologies in-store allows you to give customers more choices and to make everything more convenient. Technology is evolving faster than ever and retail tech comes with many benefits for both retailers and shoppers. 

"A key way for brands to increase customer engagement in-stores is to ensure fast checkouts as well as helpful in-store associates to answer any questions. A fast checkout allows shoppers to get in and out of stores quickly given most customers don’t want to wait to purchase items. If customers have to regularly wait during checkout it can lead to abandoned sales or a decrease in affinity for in-store shopping.

Ensuring enough associates in a store is also important. It allows customers to easily locate new items or be introduced to new products that match their needs. Furthermore, if armed with the right technology, associates can also help shoppers place orders for products that may be out-of-stock on the shelves or at another store. Assuming the customer does not need the item immediately, these associates can help consumers find the right inventory within the retailer’s network and save the sale for the retailer.

As supply chains are strained this year and demand surges, having technology in place to help shoppers find the products in and outside of a store's four walls can help retailers better serve their customers."

Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group 

Now that shoppers are returning to stores, you need to take into consideration everything that has changed in the past year. People are looking for convenience, safety, and a great experience, all in one shopping session in-store. By combining different shopper marketing tactics and incorporating technology in your daily processes you can make sure the customers are engaged and eager to shop more. 

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