NY Now Market goers were invited to sit down with GDA Editor in Chief, Lenise Willis, Paddywax’s Vice President of Specialty Sales, Jessica Barile and Owner of Occassionette, Sarah Villari, to have a conversation about the future of brick and mortar stores and how they compete with their online counterparts, moderated by Becky Tyre, GDA retail editor and author of Retail Details blog. The conversation was held on Monday, Aug. 21, atthe Javitz Convention Center. Out of the discussion, these four tips arose.
- Tell a Story and They Will Shop
The conversation began with a simple, but imperative, topic—brick and mortar versus online stores. The ladies all agreed that with brick and mortar stores, the biggest attraction is the connection—whether physically touching a product or emotionally connecting with the store or product. Consumers will always appreciate the opportunity to touch an item before purchasing it, especially in reference to clothing and other plush items. Willis added “shopping is emotional, just as stories are. So, anytime you can tap into the shoppers’ feelings by telling a product’s story or your own story, you can inspire them to make a purchase or at least shop around. Millennials have a special regard for gifts that tell a story, whether they are US-made products or upcycled pieces, because they tend to be relatable and make for good conversation starters. “Anytime you can tell a passionate story, people are likely to engage,” said Willis. While online shopping definitely creates some competition for brick and mortars, it’s unlikely that its convenience will ever trump the experience of in-store shopping, since the new generation—the second biggest “green movement”—seems to be looking for more ways to connect, growing tired of the antisocial digital world.
- Take Risks and See the Payoff
As the conversation moved into sustaining customer loyalty and how to do so, Barile made the point that the best piece of advice she could give, from big box to smaller retailers, would be to “take risks.” She went on to explain that the stores that seem to suffer the most are the ones that are stagnant and fail to keep the ball rolling. “Big box stores do great with this,” added Barile. However, what they don’t handle as well as smaller brick and mortars is knowledgeability of their product, according to Barile, “smaller stores should use this as their super power.” The ladies all agreed that their experiences shopping in smaller gift stores have been more informed than those in big box stores. This knowledge of product, taking risks, and good customer service all make the shopping experience easy for the customer, which is essential to customer loyalty, according to Villari. “Always keep who and why in mind,” she said.
- Use Social and They Will Come
Getting exposure and creating more traffic was a big concern for the attendees as they raised their hands to ask the panel questions. Each of the ladies spoke to the importance of social media and transparency with customers. “Instagram and Facebook are both great for announcements, events, and even opinionated posts (i.e. politics, neighborhood issues),” said Villari. She added that social media is the best channel for displaying community efforts like charity drives, which are known to pique the interests of customers. This shouldn’t go without some type of strategy, though, added Barile, “use your Instagram accounts for providing customers a snap-shot of your store and new products, and Facebook for more conversational posts.” Willis attested as she explained that the Gifts and Decorative Accessories team are avid users of Facebook and Instagram, using Facebook Live and Instagram videos to share personality and creativity with followers. She added that the editorial team is always accepting story pitches from both manufacturers and retailers. “Anytime you have ideas for cool stories, pitch them to us with images attached, and be enthusiastic! We are always open to your ideas.”
- Know Your Rep and Use Them!
As the discussion wrapped up, the ladies discussed the benefits of maintaining a strong relationship with sales representatives. Barile advised that retailers should always ask if there is a show special, as well as request that POS marketing materials associated with the product be delivered with it as well. According to Barile, your sales rep could be a wealth of knowledge for what’s selling well in the area and any engaging stories about the products. And if you’re worried about a main competitor in the area, don’t be afraid to tell them who it is and that you want to set yourself apart from them.
“Sometimes being a store owner can be very lonely… I could go on and on about the reps and how supportive they have been for me,” added Villari. “Of course, there will always be a few that you’ll have to weed out, but overall, your reps have you back—trust in that,” she added.