Brick-and-mortar a digital necessity

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shopping_small.jpgADOTAS — Contrary to popular belief, we interactive folks don’t sit around waiting for every retail outlet to crumble into brick-and-mortar dust. Not those of us who think about customers more than we think about apps and code, anyway. Heresy for a digital guy, you say? To which I say: Have you ever wanted something right now?

Few things strengthen an online campaign like a strong brick-and-mortar experience. Whether we like it or not, the brand transcends all mediums, and most customers glean information from every source available, including good old-fashioned shopping. To position our companies or clients to be the most successful, we must create satisfying customer experiences regardless of where they have them.

Think about it in the opposite way from how the issue is usually posed: Imagine how powerful Amazon.com would be if it had as many retail locations as Starbucks.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to work with a lot of clients who have grappled with how to turn the intersection of the physical world and cyberspace into valuable territory. Some have been forced by the economy and consumer preference to understand it (automotive), others use third parties to do it for them (beverages) and still others have learned internally how to bring it all together in amazing ways (the U.S. Air Force — I kid you not; take a look).

Each of these has, in their own way, learned the importance of giving the customer the same kind of value online as offline. And from my work with clients, I bring you my own three areas of paramount importance to give customers a compelling and complementary experience both on and offline.

Immediate gratification: In this age of Twitter and iTunes, you’d think a brick-and-mortar solution would provide anything but instant gratification. But when you’re dealing with the physical world, there’s always that annoying lag time between placing your order and actually getting the thing you want. So going to a retail location and not having to wait for delivery could make all the difference when you want it now. And even if the customer just wants to see or touch it now, but buy it later online, giving them a “VIP/Red Carpet” retail experience could clinch the sale. Think of it as the 21st century version of the now obsolete full-service gas station.

A face to the brand: When customers are going through their consideration process, a friendly face can give them the confidence to finalize their purchase. This is especially true of the baby boomer generation. By having a live human validate their online research, answer any new questions and provide the assurances they’re looking for, boomers are more likely to become customers for life. And beyond the human face, make sure customers see the same signs, slogans and brand images in your stores that they see online. It’ll build a strong basis for trust and repeat business.

The right touch: No matter how impressive the online experience, it will never compare to reality. We can have virtual tours, endless reviews and lots of comparisons, but in many cases, especially with larger purchases, it won’t matter. Some consumers still want to see and feel exactly what they’re getting.

In these cases, online becomes the feeder and retail closes the sale. It’s your own version of internal and external sales. Online provides the product information and brick-and-mortar confirms it. And if by chance one of those retail browsers shows up at the retail outlet, a multichannel brand becomes even more important. The customer has come to you first, so this is your chance to give them a reason to buy — regardless of price or anything they might find on the Internet.

As your online presence gets larger, a lot of things will go by the wayside, but retail won’t be one of them. There’s too much benefit for both the business owner and the customer in having that vital, relationship-building interaction.

Retail may not be dead yet, but retail that ignores interactive — and interactive that ignores retail — will certainly be the first to crumble in this age of financial uncertainty.

Michael Radigan is Vice President of Interactive for Javelin Direct.

Javelin Direct (www.javelindirect.com) is a next-generation direct marketing agency that offers direct, interactive, CRM, marketing strategy and analytics services. Javelin’s unique set of “accountability solutions” drives integration, ROI and continuous process improvement across the marketing spectrum.

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