How brick-and-mortar stores are using pages from online retailers' playbooks

It can sometimes sound like there's a war going on between online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores. Online retailers can offer convenience, price comparison, and the ease of shopping in your pajamas. Brick-and-mortar can offer a more human, engaging experience, along with the chance to try products out before purchasing. While both have their advantages, the reality is that most consumers are looking for the best of both worlds – and more brick-and-mortar retailers are finding innovative ways to blend the two.

Personalized deals and offers

With the ubiquitous nature of smart phones, mobile technology is acting as a bridge between the online world and real life shopping. Apps like Shopkick and Swirl are using Apple's iBeacon technology to send push notifications to nearby nearby users. The beacons can be placed in stores and programmed to alert shoppers to specials and new products – all based on the user's shopping and browsing history.

Macy's was one of the first retailers to adopt the platform, and is using the technology to offer customers location-specific deals and suggest products. Small jewelry and gift retailer Alex & Ani is using the technology to attract passing shoppers into its stores.

Shop online, but try before you buy

Although browsing for engagement ring styles online is commonplace, few shoppers are willing to pull out their wallets for a sight-unseen diamond ring. High-end jewelry brand Ritani saw this trend, and formed "clicks-to-bricks" partnerships with local jewelers so customers can shop for rings online, then see them in person before they buy. Rather than opening their own retail locations, Ritani enlists local brick-and-mortar shops as affiliates who get a percentage of each sale.

Social proof and reviews

Comparison shopping and showrooming – where customers look at items in the store and then buy them cheaper online – are two of the biggest worries of brick-and-mortar shops. Beauty retailer Sephora is combatting those habits by putting iPads throughout their stores and encouraging customers to browse. Customers can scan a barcode to read product reviews, get suggestions and check prices. If they're enrolled in Sephora's Beauty Insider program, their information is stored to help them remember the shade of foundation they bought last time, or which face lotion they tried.

Do it better

The trick to blending technology with in-person shopping is to offer an experience that makes the trip worth it. Services like online ordering with in-store pickup will backfire if the onsite customer service isn't up to snuff. After all, if a customer isn't getting an additional benefit by picking up at the store (like help with assembly or detailed knowledge) why shouldn't they just purchase it through a competitor and have it shipped to their front door?

According to a recent article in Forbes, the future of retail will be "a more satisfying social and emotional experience inside stores," with friendly, well-trained sales associates who offer a personalized service. Make sure your store offers the best experience it can.

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