brick-and-mortar-retail-in-the-21st-centuryIt’s a common saying among trendy modernists that the age of the brick and mortar store is coming to an end, owing to the rise and ease of online retail and internet marketing.

Similar claims can be found throughout much of the modern era, with advocates of inevitable progressivism hailing the redundancy of old things because of the arrival of the new. Certainly, there’s a temptation to take this assessment at face value, because there are indeed strengths to an online store. These give certain edges and advantages over physical retail, and a lot of people respond to that.

The Perks of Going Digital

Whenever given the opportunity, people will generally try to do as little as possible for an equal or greater amount of gain. This desire for things to be easy and effortless is the reason for a lot appliances and conveniences that we enjoy today, such as remote controls, washing machines, automatic doors, and other labor-saving devices. Online retail, in this sense, is just the natural progression of that tendency in the face of modern technology.

First and foremost, online stores are more accessible than brick and mortar buildings. By this I mean they are not tied to a particular building or location, and anyone can access and browse their goods and services from the convenience of their own home. This makes shopping tremendously easy because you no longer have to physically travel to the store itself in order to make purchases there. This is especially useful for grocery shopping, in which lots of bulky, heavy goods need to be transported home, or if you’re shopping for a particular item that’s very hard to find in most stores, such as specialist parts for PCs. The lower cost models for some online retail also contribute to cheaper prices for the online consumer.

All that said, it’s pretty easy to see why some folks would get the impression that the days of walking to the corner store are numbered. But these doomsayers have carried on in this way for years, and while the advent of online retail has certainly changed the marketplace, it seems that brick and mortar retail stores are continuing to succeed. And not without reason — as it turns out, physical businesses are a lot more adaptable than their detractors may give them credit for, and we’ll talk about how brick and mortar stores are continuing to compete.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

First, let’s look at advertising. The thing is, there’s absolutely nothing to stop brick and mortar stores from pursuing similar strategies in their bid to acquire new customers. And in fact, they absolutely should take advantage of online advertising in addition to traditional methods. Most retail stores today have at least a basic social networking presence, with a Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and maybe even a Youtube account to give themselves a presence online. To be without an online presence in this day and age is like being without a phone number or a bank account.

Further, you can supplement online marketing strategies with physical signs and banners to draw and convert shoppers while out on the street. The thing is, online stores are very hard to find if you’re not actually looking for them. While online advertising campaigns can help, there’s one major problem with digital advertising that analog advertising doesn’t have to deal with – adblockers.

Most people have a healthy dislike for some of the kinds of advertising you find online — pop ups and flashing banners, most especially. For this reason, many people employ programs and apps specifically intended to block online advertisements from appearing on their phones and web browsers, where your physical advertisements mark the location of your business in the eyes of every passer-by. This allows them greater potential for conversions. People on the street are more likely to see your flags and banners outside your retail building and be intrigued enough to enter your store.

Another thing you can do to help counter online marketing is the distribution of discount vouchers. While online discounts do exist, they’re a lot harder to get both going because of the tendency for folks to block ads and the difficulties of distributing them randomly online. However, it’s fairly inexpensive to print out several hundred or several thousand discount vouchers to be distributed to random figures on the street to help draw awareness and interest in your store.

Be aware, though, that the above method can sometimes be just as irritating as online marketing can be. People don’t like being accosted by strangers on the street, so consider alternative strategies for distributing them.

One last technique you can try for physical advertising is to emphasize the human element of your store. A major drawback for online stores is the lack of real communication between the consumer and the business itself. There’s no one to talk to you about the items you want to buy, and asking questions about it usually means a tedious back and forth with an e-mail contact, or a trip to a forum to ask others who may have bought the item themselves. In a brick and mortar retail store, there is actually a person there and a physical object to examine in order to get a feel for the things they want to buy.

Remember this final, and arguably decisive advantage. Customers like talking to people, so one really effective way to promote your business is through your staff. Encourage and train them to interact and engage with the guests on a more meaningful level. Find staff members who are genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about what you’re selling, and get them to a point where customers are coming just as much for the shopping experience as the items themselves.