Whether it’s Gap, Walgreens, Forever 21, Payless ShoeSource, Sears or Victoria’s Secret, the list of brick-and-mortar businesses shutting their doors amid struggling sales and declining profits continues to grow. In fact, according to an analysis by Business Insider, at least 2,200 more storefronts are already confirmed to close in 2020 with up to 10,000 more anticipated. Sadly some aren’t just closing a few cash registers but, as Pier 1 Imports announced on February 17, they are filing for bankruptcy.

The reasons these businesses have suffered are varied — operational inefficiencies; stale inventory; less disposable income for consumers — but one consistent theme is a lack of adaptability. The current retail landscape is cutthroat and only bold, innovative and agile companies will endure the disruption. With that in mind, consider these ideas to help you guide your business forward.

1. Build a better marketplace

We know that online shopping is growing at a rapid rate so transforming your digital presence into something more than a landing page with store hours has never been more critical. That means developing a modern destination for customers to discover your products that is accessible and seamless from arrival to checkout.

If this sounds like a daunting task, fear not because there are many terrific eCommerce platforms out there, such as Mirakl, which can simplify the transaction process and tailor a solution to any business. And it’s an investment that can be offset when factoring in a reduction in rent costs, utilities and some staffing once completed.

2. Shape up your shipping solutions

Once you’re securing orders it’s time to fulfill them, and customers expect two things when it comes to shipping: free and reliable.

Have you ever added extra items to your cart to qualify for free shipping? Or bought something solely because free returns/exchanges were permitted? Offering multiple customer-friendly shipping options is now the norm, making the thresholds for complementary service on purchases and returns an important decision for your leadership team.

Secondly, it doesn’t matter if shipping takes one day, one week or one month — if your business does not have a dependable shipping partner or method than you’ve got a fatal flaw. Even if you’re not operating at a scale that justifies 24-hour turnarounds, maintaining communication with your customer on when items have shipped and are expected to arrive can eliminate negative shopping experiences.

3. Personalize your marketing

Most businesses are beginning to understand the downfall of communicating to customers with broad strokes, especially with mounting research that proves personalization is what strengthens customer relationships. The key to doing this effectively though begins with data collection.

Tracking entry points, exit points, browsing trails, payment preferences and, quite simply, the behaviour of your customers can reveal heaps of valuable information. Sophisticated AI-powered tools can then help filter and digest this data to create detailed, accurate profiles of customers.

Even knowing the device a prospective customer is using can be a way to personalize. For example, a tech customer visits using his or her iPhone browser. That should trigger any iOS products being presented ahead of any Android-related goods as they shop.

4. Differentiate your store experiences

Instead of making your online store just a digital catalog of what you sell, consider ways to separate the two shops.

The best strategy is to treat the cyber store as the main checkout vehicle while physical stores are focused on creating experiences that can’t be obtained online. Think of retailers like The Home Depot or Apple, which offer online shopping but also heavily promote workshops, showcases and tutorials conducted in person. This trend is called “retailtainment.”

When executed properly, the concept allows the two entities to nicely co-exist and drive two-way traffic. Digital marketing spreads the details of in-person events, at which customers are enticed with products, offers and more that can be redeemed or activated online. It’s a very complementary approach.

5. Optimize your inventory

Perhaps the most frustrating purchasing experience is one that results in a desired product being out of stock, either for size, colour, style, or whatnot. This is costly no matter if it occurs in store or online.

Luckily there are AI-powered systems out there that, through the analysis of customer purchase patterns, can ensure products are always available, reduce re-order time and identify what your ideal level of stock is to have on hand. This will paint a clearer picture of what your customers want; when they want it; how much of it they want; and how often it needs to be restocked.

Each of these steps are a great starting point to digitally transform your business and fortify it with sound long-term strategies. However, there are also many others that can be taken beyond the ones listed above. What’s important is to assess your business and prioritize which aspects need the most help as you continue investing in your future.
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