When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the world ground to a halt. In-person visits were no longer possible, forcing businesses across every industry to shift to online strategies. Those who were once leery of placing orders online became digital adopters overnight.
As the dust began to settle, many believed the change would be permanent. The expectation that we would all be permanent online shoppers, never to step foot in a physical store again, held across almost every sector.
And yet, as we look at the landscape of 2023, a new realization is emerging. Customers have become weary of spending their days staring at screens. The desire to shop in person is spiking in a surprisingly quick way. With regulations lifting, concerns over the pandemic lessening, and consumers seeking personal contact once again, the message is clear. Businesses need to prepare for a return to on-site location visits and master the customer experience in a greater way than ever before.
Let’s look at the trends that indicate your customers will soon be heading back to your doors and five key ways you can prepare for these eager buyers.
1. Return to On-Site by the Numbers
Nearly three years ago, when COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, online purchases saw a massive uptick. Consumers spanning every age group began purchasing furniture, cars, groceries, and more from their homes. By the second quarter of 2020, e-commerce sales as a percentage of total retail sales soared by four percentage points.
What was born of necessity seemed poised to stay the norm. In 2021, e-commerce sales in the U.S. reached a value of $870 billion, a 14.2% increase over 2020 and a 50.5% increase over 2019.
All this rapid growth painted a picture in which, it seemed, consumers might never return to their pre-pandemic purchasing patterns.
And then, something unexpected happened. In May of 2022, online sales seemed to slow dramatically, only increasing 2.2% compared with the same month a year prior. More interestingly, during the same period, in-store sales grew at a rapid clip of 13.4%.
Near the end of 2022, Mood Media surveyed thousands of shoppers and discovered something noteworthy: 38% of customers stated that they were shopping more in-store than they had two years ago, and 33% stated they were shopping in-store at the same level.
It seems that while customers will continue to use online shopping for certain purchases, there is an increasing number of consumers who prefer to visit a physical location.
2. Prepare Your Sales Teams & Improve the Customer Experience
As you prepare for customers to return to your physical location, it is important to understand what is driving them back to in-person shopping. Recently, Reputation analyzed customer sentiment across hundreds of retailers to try to discern: why are shoppers choosing to visit a brick-and-mortar store? One of the biggest reasons is simple — a store’s employees.
Shoppers want to connect with people. Shopper sentiment about retailers’ staff increased by 20 percentage points since the pandemic hit.
To capture consumers eager to connect with your employees, it is critical to ensure that your team is trained and empowered to provide the best customer experience possible. The following are just a few practical tips for creating a quality person-to-person experience:
- Train your employees to be approachable and welcoming. Encourage them to take the time to engage one-on-one with customers in a personalized way.
- Teach your staff the importance of active listening. Train employees to ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to each response. Focus on responding to customer needs and providing helpful information.
- Make sure your employees are knowledgeable about the services and products you offer. Amp up your training and provide additional resources to empower your team to help customers make informed decisions.
- Create a welcoming space. Make sure that your location is clean and easy to navigate.
- Focus on blending the digital and physical experience. Use technology to enhance the customer experience, borrowing from what you learned during the pandemic. Interactive displays and digital kiosks can make shopping easier and more convenient.
- Create community. Encourage customers to interact with each other and with your employees. Engage on social media and encourage feedback from customers.
3. Host Events
Hosting in-store events have always been a powerful way to engage with customers. Now, with consumers eager to return to physical stores, events are an effective way to entice them to your location. Events provide customers with a unique and memorable experience. They help build a sense of community and connection with your brand.
As you think about what type of event to host, consider some of the following ideas, which are excellent for brands across industries:
- Product or service demos: Have your sales team or an experienced staff member allow your customers to see your product or service in action. Invite questions and provide valuable insights into what makes your product or service stand out.
- Workshops: Host a DIY workshop or How-To event related to your products or services. For example, a car dealership could host a How-To Navigate Vehicle Financing event, or an HVAC company could hold a Top HVAC Maintenance Tips for Homeowners event.
- Seasonal events: Plan an event that is tied to the seasons. This can include holiday events or the change of the season. For example, a car dealership could host a Summer Sales Event.
- Charity events: Support a charity by hosting an event in which a percentage of the proceeds from every sale benefit a local non-profit. Or you can host a food drive or toy drive for a pantry or children’s center.
- Family day: Consider renting bounce houses and providing free snacks and drinks. Hire a face painter and live musician and draw in families with a day focused on customer appreciation.
The options for an in-person event are vast. Whatever route you choose, make sure to focus on building a connection between customers and your brand.
4. Create Exclusive In-Store Offers
With customers eager to return to on-site location visits, competitors in your space are undoubtedly also looking for ways to lure them into their stores. To help keep existing customers loyal and entice new customers to visit your location, consider hosting an exclusive in-store offer. The following are a few ideas for in-store specials:
- Early access: Offer your customers the exclusivity of seeing and shopping new products before they are available online. For a car dealership, this might include the ability to jump the line for a specific vehicle make and model. For a service-based business, this might include exclusive access to the best time slots for services.
- Offer in-store-only discounts: Provide promotions on services or products that are only available for those who visit an in-store location. Let your customers know that when they visit your physical location, they will receive a bigger discount on your products or services than when they shop online.
- Complimentary services: Offer a complimentary service or add-on for those who visit your physical location. For example, a dealership could offer a free oil change. You can also consider offering a free product or service upgrade.
- Give a gift: For those who visit your store, provide a complimentary gift with a purchase, such as a branded tote bag or small accessory. This not only rewards visitors but also helps build brand awareness.
- In-store-only loyalty program: Provide exclusive rewards for members of your loyalty program when they visit your location. Consider offering points for every visit.
- In-store-only giveaways: Host a raffle or allow people to sign up to win when they visit your store. You might pair this with an event where you reveal the winner during a grand giveaway.
As you put together a strategy around your exclusive in-store offers, make sure to promote the deal across all channels. Get the word out and get customers excited about planning a visit to your store.
5. Emphasize Value
Another interesting trend is taking place among consumers who are returning to in-store visits. Shoppers are doing more and more of their purchasing at wholesale retailers. According to recent data, when compared to the third quarter of 2021, foot traffic to Sam’s Club, Costco, and other wholesalers was around 25% higher this year.
This number signals an important fact even if you are not in the grocery business. Consumers are extremely value conscious right now. With the inflating cost of living, it is easy to understand why.
For this reason, when you welcome customers back to your physical location, you need to be prepared to demonstrate cost-savings and added value. This doesn’t always mean being the lowest-priced retailer around. Instead, you can emphasize the value you provide in a few key ways, such as the following:
- Offer a loyalty program: Reward your repeat customers by providing them with discounts or special deals.
- Bundle products: Consider how you can bundle related products together to provide a discounted price.
- Promote deals: Use social media channels, email marketing, and in-store signage to highlight your current sales or specials.
- Focus on the quality of products: Use in-store displays and online product descriptions to emphasize what makes your products high quality.
- Offer a price-match guarantee: Consider offering to match the price of a competitor if a customer can showcase a better deal.
Get Help from J&L Marketing
As you prepare for a wave of in-store shoppers, make sure you are ready to hit the ground running. At J&L Marketing, we can help you design and host events, create strategic marketing targeting customers eager to return to your store, and connect everything through a cohesive plan. Don’t wait! Your competition is already targeting your customers for in-person visits. Reach out for a free consultation today.