Marketing lessons from e-commerce to put to work in your physical stores

For e-commerce businesses, conversion rate optimization is often a highly tracked and measured metric to determine the overall efficiency of an online store, while physical retail stores often focus mainly on revenue.

When looking to improve the performance of your physical locations, taking the many lessons from your e-commerce success and applying them to your stores can help produce significant bottom-line results.

Here are a few of the most effective e-commerce strategies you can apply in your stores to increase revenue, improve customer satisfaction and grow your brand.

Create scarcity in promotional offers

Take a peek behind any top-performing e-commerce campaign and there will be a high chance of you seeing some form of scarcity in the offer. Whether that be an ad in bright red font displaying “only five left,” or a real-time countdown timer on the homepage of a sale, scarcity is widely used in e-commerce to create urgency and encourage consumers to take action.

For example, Amazon uses scarcity well in their checkout process by highlighting that a popular item only has a few items left in stock. When Amazon mentions “more on the way,” it triggers the idea of having to wait longer for your item if not purchased now.

The effects of scarcity with regard to purchasing behavior have long been studied, and the research is clear:

“Consumers instinctively know that scarce products are of more value, they stop to think about the product when faced with the knowledge that a product is becoming less available […] Scarcity can be introduced to the potential customer by many factors such as the quality on the shelf where a half full shelf of products is more alluring.”
(Market & Lehman, 2011)

Incorporating elements of scarcity in your stores may not be as easy as setting up a widget on your website, but you can certainly position popular items in your store in the most trafficked areas. Additionally, experimenting with holding a special event in your store to highlight a high-demand product can help move inventory during the event.

For example, bookstores often set up a display showcasing a best-selling new release in a prominent location. (It was hard to go into any chain or indie bookshop over the holidays in the US and miss displays featuring Becoming by Michelle Obama, which was selling out furiously.)

Though the use of scarcity can be effective in increasing revenue, it’s important never to mislead your customers by suggesting a sale will only last a few days when you have no intention of stopping it at your stated time.

Similarly, saying you only have a certain amount of product in stock to increase sales would also be dishonest and unethical and consumers will be quick to catch on.

When used appropriately, adding scarcity to your store locations for sales and promotions can give a quick boost of momentum to your store.

Leverage social proof

Another powerful e-commerce strategy you should incorporate into your stores is leveraging the power of social proof.

According to a recent survey on online shopping behavior, nearly 70 percent of consumers rely on online reviews before making a purchase. Implementing social proof in your stores can help increase sales often with just a few minor tweaks to your layout or product placement.

Amazon Go goes as far as displaying printed versions of online reviews because they have determined social proof has such a large impact on consumers buying behavior. But you don’t have to print out customer reviews to see results.

So how can you make social proof work for you in your physical locations?

  • Consider having a highlight reel of customers speaking highly of your product on social media right next to your best-selling items.
  • Showcase through posters and displays how many customers have purchased one of your best items.

The more you can demonstrate that the product is popular, the easier it for potential customers to pull the trigger on a purchase.

Offer freebies and samples

In the world of e-commerce, it’s common to be gifted a free guide or coupon in exchange for an email for first-time visitors. Incorporating freebies and samples in store can be just as powerful.

Min-Jee Hwang, Director of Marketing at Wiser Solutions noted in a recent RetailWire discussion, "The in-store version of sampling is much more about instant gratification than the online variant."

Sephora sets the standard for how a retailer should aim to deliver an exceptional online and in-store experience through samples. Free samples come with every Sephora purchase in-store or online, and is a hallmark of their consistent omnichannel experience. However, by offering infinite choices for in-store samples, Sephora offers instant gratification and variety that shoppers can’t get online.

Trader Joe's is another brand that does this extremely well. Known for their sample stations that offer delicious cheese, wine and coffee, once the sample has been handed out, it’s easy to upsell the actual item that the customers have already enjoyed. While e-commerce certainly has its benefits, you can’t offer free tastings through a computer screen. In fact, it's such an iconic experience that it's an inside joke the brand's fans have with each other:

Your physical locations offer opportunities to implement seemingly minor tactics that can’t be pulled off online to improve your customers’ overall experience.

Simplify your store layout

Just as websites that are overly cluttered, have confusing navigation, or are slow to load turn off potential customers, your physical store layout can also have an effect on whether or not your visitors will buy.

According to Hubspot, 38 percent of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout are unattractive. Knowing that your store layout plays a significant role in the experience of your customers can help you make better layout decisions.

Consider reducing visual clutter before approving seasonal displays and making sure your teams make every part of your store layout truly count.

Make checkout a breeze

Every time a visitor of your online store abandons their cart, it’s a missed opportunity. The same can be said of a consumer who walks into your store, browses for 30 minutes then leaves empty-handed.

According to recent study, 26 percent of US online shoppers have abandoned an order in the past quarter solely due to a “too long/complicated checkout process.”

Making it easy for your in-store customers to check out quickly can reduce missed conversions. Depending on each store’s layout, some of your locations may benefit from multiple cash wraps or check-out counters throughout a larger space, such as a Macy’s, or mobile app-empowered associates who can check out a customer from anywhere in the store, especially if the item a customer want isn’t in their size or color in-store. Glossier’s new flagship does this well.

When reflecting on Nordstrom's initiatives to make check-out easier, Doug Fleener, president and managing partner at Dynamic Experience Group reflected:

“I believe having the Nordstrom sales associates use mobile tools will extend the personalized experience they currently give throughout the entire purchase process [...] Now the customer won’t have to stand in line at a counter and the employees will have all of the information they need at their fingertips.”

Apple does a great job of meeting customers where they're at by equipping all Apple employees on the floor to check customers out from an Apple device instead of a traditional cash wrap. Instead of waiting in a long line to purchase the latest iPhone, an Apple specialist can get you checked out quickly via their well-known Genius Bar.

As noted by the Harvard Business Review all the way back in 1983, “The increasing use of automatic teller machines and vending machines, the expanded use of self-service store formats, and the advent of computerized shopping mall guides all indicate that consumers who value speed and convenience are becoming amenable to helping themselves at the point of purchase.” Their prediction was spot-on.

Making it easier for customers to check out is one of the easiest ways to improve your in-store conversions and reduce carts abandoned in real life.

Further reading: Get obsessed with real-world conversion rate optimization by hearing how one retailer uses Dor to save thousands of dollars in potential lost revenue.