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How brick-and-mortar stores can thrive in a digital era

If you want your physical store to continue thriving in a world with pressure from online stores, you’ll need to keep adapting with new tech and new strategies. 

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For years, industry experts have speculated that brick-and-mortar stores would have trouble competing with their online counterparts, but these physical establishments are thriving, thanks in part to their use of new technology and new strategies.

If you’re a local grocery store, convenience store, or other brick-and-mortar establishment selling consumer packaged goods, you’ll need to make use of these technologies and strategies to thrive. 

Playing to the Advantages of Physical Stores

It’s easy to think that online stores are innately advantageous over their brick-and-mortar counterparts since it’s convenient, cheap, and universally accessible to shop online. However, brick-and-mortar stores have several distinct advantages, including: 

  • Local appeal. When operating a brick-and-mortar establishment, you’ll be targeting a local audience. This makes it easier to make yourself relevant to a target audience and cuts down on the competition you’re going to face. 
  • Immediate availability. Even if you choose express shipping on an online store, you’ll need to wait for your products to be delivered. But if you shop at a physical store, you’ll be able to buy all the products you need immediately. 
  • Personal experience. Shopping in a physical store also provides you with an experience that can’t be replicated online. Browsing through aisles and seeing goods in person is often preferable to online shopping. 
  • Trust and assurance. Shopping in a brick-and-mortar store also establishes trust with customers. Patrons can see exactly what they’re going to buy, and in some cases (like buying fruits and vegetables), they can choose the exact items they want. 

Brick-and-mortar stores can thrive by focusing their efforts on emphasizing or improving these advantages. 

Hybridizing Brick-and-Mortar and Digital 

There’s no escaping the fact that both physical and online shopping have pros and cons. That’s why so many businesses have attempted to hybridize their approach; rather than focusing exclusively on a brick-and-mortar store or an online platform, they attempt to offer the “best of both worlds.” 

For example, many CPG brands are now utilizing products that allow them to help customers find products in grocers and convenience stores. With the help of these tools, customers can look for the products they want online, then visit a physical store and get them quickly. Most physical stores have an online version of their platform, where customers can buy products, giving customers both options for shopping; through hybridization, stores can allow customers to buy products online and pick them up in-store. 

Core Tenets for Success

As physical retail stores, grocers, and other businesses play to their advantages and hybridize digital and physical strategies, it’s important to follow these core tenets for success: 

  • Complementary strategies. Understand that no single strategy or approach will be able to help you succeed; every possible approach has weaknesses, and if the approach you’ve exclusively invested in fails, it could completely destroy your business prospects. That’s why it’s important to leverage multiple complementary strategies. Each new tactic you add to your comprehensive approach should somehow mitigate risk from your other strategies, or make up for their weaknesses. Think of it as a form of “balancing your portfolio.” Over time, you can weed out the strategies that aren’t working. 
  • Technological innovation. Even if you’re focusing mostly on your physical establishments, it’s important to stay current with the latest technologies. Helping customers buy online, find the products they need, navigate your store, or get access to the latest deals can instantly improve your standing in the competitive environment. Just make sure you vet your options before you begin integrating them. 
  • Originality. Remember, you’re still competing with multiple other local options. If you want to win your share of loyal customers, you’ll need to differentiate your brand. Feel free to learn from what other strategies your competitors are adopting, but make sure you have a unique blend of approaches on your own. 
  • Catering to a target audience. It’s also important to tailor your strategies to a specific target audience. Rather than adopting a blend of tactics that appeal to a general audience, learn what your target demographics prefer and cater to those preferences. You’ll need to invest in thorough market research to accomplish this. 
  • Adaptation. Finally, make sure you remain adaptable. New technologies and strategies are constantly emerging, so you’ll need to stay on the forefront of these developments. Additionally, you’ll find some of your strategies don’t pan out the way you think; when this happens, it’s important to replace them as soon as possible. 

Even though online stores are becoming increasingly popular and more robust in terms of product availability, functionality, and accessibility, it seems incredibly unlikely they’ll be able to fully replace physical, brick-and-mortar stores altogether. If you want your physical store to continue thriving in a world with pressure from online stores, you’ll need to keep adapting with new tech and new strategies. 

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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