Following the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York in January, Forbes magazine contributor Steve Dennis wrote: “Anyone who has been paying attention… knows that the distinction between e-commerce and physical stores is increasingly a distinction without a difference.
“Digital drives brick & mortar shopping and vice versa. It’s all just commerce now and the customer is the channel,” he said. (1) If one needed proof that lines have blurred between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce retail, just consider the announcements made at Shopify’s annual conference for developers and partners in Toronto in May.
At that event aptly named “Unite,” Shopify announced projects ranging from its launching a credit-card tap reader for “dynamic checkout” at physical stores; support for payments in more currencies, digital payment methods, and operating in several languages; and the opening of a Shopify brick-and-mortar outlet for its e-commerce customers looking for information and in-person support.
That support writes The Globe and Mail journalist Josh O’Kane who interviewed Shopify’s Chief Operating Officer Harley Finkelstein and CEO Tobi Lutke at the conference, “can range from tools to help mom-and-pop businesses flourish in whatever way works best for them—with physical, digital or increasingly hybrid retail.” (2)
CUSTOMER SHOW THE WAY: THEY LOVE IT ALL!
The time to find out who to blame for the last few years’ waves of major retail-store closures has long passed. According to numerous studies on today’s shopper habits, people go back and forth between actual stores and e-commerce sites. As freelance journalist Michael Boriero writes, “[t]here’s something special about entering a tore, grabbing a piece of clothing, feeling the material, and interacting with helpful employees that know your name.”
(3) After all, who wouldn’t want to test a mattress on which one will sleep for years to come before making the purchase…
WAY TO SET UP BRICK-AND MORTAR OUTLETS
First, besides opening one’s own stores with the market research, investment and fulltime management this involves, long-term options big and small abound. They include pop-ups inside major stores set up for several years, and “concept stores.” “A designated ‘concept store’ is a shop that presents a very individual, personally and lovingly selected range of
products to a target audience,” writes Katja Feldmeier in Go—PopUp Magazine. (4) They will feature an unusual assortment of products from different brands that appeal to a specific type of consumer, she said. Then, there are pop-ups set up for a few months at targeted locations. “It can focus on a single purpose like a stock sale, but more often, it will be deliberately used as a marketing tool to increase the attention for the brand in a very short amount of time,” Ms. Feldmeier said. They can be used to market one’s product line at a crucial time of year for the e-commerce brand, such as upcoming holidays, back-to-school periods or the winter sports season. Finally, there are the true pop-up shops: booths or tables set up for a weekend, as part of local or regional fairs, festivals, and celebrations. As Erin Gray Morton of the e-commerce, Erin Gray Design said in an interview, “The nice thing about going to markets…to the schools and churches [fairs]: You get a lot of feedback from consumers.” (5) These events become invaluable tools to test products old and new and hear from people what new features or products they would like to see, she said.
STRENGTHENING ONE’S IMAGE
Whether an e-commerce opts for a long-term outlet or a weekend booth, the first thing to keep in mind is that a physical pop-up will set one’s brand identity for the public whether they are shoppers or wholesalers passing by. So a great deal of care should be taken to design one’s pop-up and to display products. Pop-ups can be precious opportunities to strengthen one’s e-commerce image in the marketplace, meet old customers and secure new ones, and generate immediate and future sales.
Some marketing and planning, a bit of work, and then a win-win proposition.