How to Drive Shoppers Back In-Store This Holiday Season

As the busy holiday season gets underway, it should come as no surprise that the rise of e-commerce has many brick-and-mortar retailers ill at ease this year. While many consumers have good intentions to shop for holiday gifts in-store at local chains and small businesses, many of their purchases may end up being online, according to recent survey data from the Washington State University (WSU) Carson College of Business.

WSU’s survey examined 1,000 Pacific Northwest consumers’ perceptions and attitudes toward the holiday shopping season, seeking to understand how and where people plan to do their shopping this year. The findings indicated that nearly 7 in 10 shoppers plan to buy their gifts in stores; but at the same time, 76 percent reported Amazon is the top retailer they plan to purchase from. So, are good intentions enough to drive holiday shoppers in-store?

For brick-and-mortar retailers, now is the time to consider how to optimize the business to give customers a unique and innovative in-store experience that will keep them coming back for more – this holiday season and into the future. Here are three tips to keep in mind along the way:

Create a positive atmosphere

Data shows that consumers like shopping in-store for several reasons. Many actually enjoy browsing through the store: they can spend time with family and friends, see or feel the products in-person, try on items and make immediate purchases.

However, factors like long lines and big crowds – especially during holiday sales frenzies – may deter people from making a purchase or returning to the store. Ensuring a positive atmosphere, which includes everything from music and lighting, to merchandising and wait times, can help mitigate this. Also consider adding services that customers can only get in-store, such as price matching, easy return policies and access to the store’s online selection while in-store (e.g. using tablets or digital flipbooks).

Highlight local ties

The shop-local movement has taken off across the Pacific Northwest – and likely in other regions, too – as consumers express a growing desire to feel connected to the products they buy. According to WSU’s survey, 4 in 5 are more likely to buy from a brand that has a positive impact on their community, and 7 in 10 are more likely to buy from a brand with locally-sourced products. What’s more, 78 percent believe local chains and small businesses provide better service.

Small businesses and big-box retailers alike should find ways to incorporate local products into the mix this holiday season. Highlight these items in advertisements, on social media, on the sales floor with “locally-made” signage or even a short narrative on the product’s local ties.

Beyond selling local products, retailers can use the holiday season to highlight how they’re giving back to the communities in which they operate.

Empower employees to sell

Do not underestimate the power of employees to help propel in-store sales. WSU’s survey found that nearly 2 in 3 consumers view employees as a valuable source of knowledge who can help with decision making. With this in mind, store owners and managers should equip and empower staff to share their product knowledge and recommendations with shoppers.

With the explosive growth of e-commerce showing no signs of slowing, shopping as we know it today will continue to flux over time. But some things may never change completely – including consumers’ desire to touch and feel real products, in real stores. This holiday season, retailers must keep in mind the reasons their customers enjoy physically shopping in stores and use them to their advantage to drive in-store sales.

Dr. David Sprott is senior associate dean and Boeing/Scott and Linda Carson chaired professor of marketing at the Washington State University Carson College of Business. He earned a Ph.D. in marketing, with an emphasis on psychology and consumer decision making, from the University of South Carolina. Sprott’s research interests span various issues related to consumer decision making, social influence, information provision and marketing public policy.

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