Way back in those distant, dark days, there was an era known as ‘the pre-internet’ era where, if you wanted to buy something, you didn’t just log onto Amazon. Instead you would head down to your local store, chat to a real life person and browse physical objects. This still goes on, of course, but many people now like to shop from the comfort of their own home. The offline approach, however, involves a very different set of marketing methods to those now favored by online selling. Could online merchants learn something from the old school methods?
Good afternoon, sir!
Bricks and mortar stores have always prided themselves on knowing their customers. The only customer database the storekeeper is likely to have is the neural circuitry powering his memory. However, he takes the effort to remember customer’s needs and quirks which creates a familiar atmosphere putting the customer at ease. Engaging the customer in small talk is very important even about such trivial matters like the weather. Moving on to selling the product, the storekeeper can answer any questions in real time and help move the offline conversion along quickly. Finally, the item will be packed neatly in front of them and the deal finished with a firm handshake.
Making it big
It’s difficult starting at the bottom and making your way up, but history has proved that many small time companies have gone on to experience wild success. Virgin Records – founded by entrepreneur Richard Branson – began life in 1972 as a small record shop above a shoe shop in London’s West End. More stores and a recording label followed over the years and in 1992 they group was sold to EMI for $1 billion! Sports apparel giant Nike also had humble beginnings, starting off life known as Blue Ribbon Sports and selling products out of owner Philip Knight’s car. Within a couple of years he was able to ditch the car and open a store. Many more stores followed and eventually production of their own footwear under the Nike label. Nike is now worth around $16 billion which isn’t bad when you consider their origins!
One thing that the web struggles with is being personal. If you wanted someone to recommend you a band similar to R.E.M in Virgin Records, the staff could easily direct you towards The Smiths. However, head to Amazon and search for The Best of REM and the ‘Customer Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ section recommends The Eurythmics and Billy Joel who appeal to completely different demographics. Algorithms and sales data are all very well and good, but they don’t fit every profile.
Head to the Nike online store and, immediately, you’re being confronted with an option to customize and buy your own football boots. This pursuit of an instant sale is a little disorientating and pushy as the customer may have no interest in football. However, walk into a Nike store in the real world and you’ll be able to browse at leisure without an assistant running towards you with a pair of football boots shouting “BUY!”. The art of sales will always be slightly aggressive, but the best salesman are those that make a customer believe a product best meets their needs rather than pushing whatever is available.
Due to the distance involved in online selling and the lack of face to face contact, online merchants have little choice in sending emails out to inform customers of promotions. More often than not, these head straight into the spam folder of the recipient as they’re sick of their inbox being clogged with junk. You may well have an excellent promotion on offering 50% discount on a certain range of products, but your customers won’t know as the information stream is redundant. A customer walking into a store, however, will be able to catch the head turning display labelled “SALE” and customers are likely to be prompted to buy.
What it’s costing
It’s not a simple case of building a website and expecting people to come to it, buy and come back again. The Nike website is a prime example of expecting an instant sale and it grinds my gears. To put it in another context, if a man meets a woman, he very rarely asks her to marry him on the spot. Unless he’s George Clooney he’s going to get the same answer every time: NO! Why, then, should websites put such a narrow conversion funnel in place which demands an instant sale? The millennial generation may be willing to accept these methods, but the baby boomers can clearly recall the old fashioned marketing methods. With their knowledge of what a good service is, many are spending their money offline.
Integrating the old methods
The online world is vastly different to the offline world, but it doesn’t mean that it’s incapable of caring about its customers. Here are a few cool examples and tools for helping you create a personalized relationship with your customers, improve their shopping experience and your retention rate along the way:
- I recently bought some aftershave online and, upon opening the package, was thrilled to find a free sample of another aftershave included. This is a useful gesture for the merchant to employ as it makes me feel wanted and moves me gradually along the conversion funnel.
- Rather than sending out mass emails which don’t single out individual customers’ needs, why not take some time tailoring emails to people who have bought specific products e.g. going back to my aftershave example, I’d be interested in hearing about more male grooming products, so would welcome an email based on this. Send me an email about the latest discounts on GHDs, though, and I’ll be hitting the spam button. But how do you do that? You can:
- The direct approach – ask your clients – once your clients complete their purchase, you can pop up a window asking if they want to here about special offers on specific categories of products. If the response rate is low, add an incentive such as 10% off your next purchase.
- The automated approach – there are tools out there such as Marketo and Hubspot which specializes in marketing automation, or in more simple words – tracking your visitors’ behavior and turning it into automated activities such as personalized emails.
- Onsite customization – think about personalized customization as the equivalent to ‘Hi John, how are you today”, you would get by visiting your local kiosk. This can be with an actual message, such as: “The last time you visited us you looked into Prada bugs. Want to see the new Prada collection?” and so on.
The amount of data accrued online allows for great analysis of customer behavior. Take shopping carts which have been filled, but then abandoned at the ‘shipping costs’ stage. Why not go the extra mile and see what you can do to win back that lost sale? The last thing an offline store wants to see is a customer leaving empty handed, so do what you can to make them feel special. It’s a win-win situation for both sides.
These old methods of marketing can easily run alongside more modern marketing techniques and allow merchants to increase their revenue and customer base. The key is to remember that customers aren’t just a credit card payment flying between two servers, they’re real life people who want to feel as though they’re special in your eyes.