The New Retail Reality

by Annet King (as seen in Skin Deep)

Retaining Customers in the Age of Online Shopping

With the consumer's new ability to choose between her computer screen and your cash register, retailing and service may appear to have been split into two separate worlds. But it's a misperception for small business owners to view online shopping as a competitor to traditional area. In fact, success awaits when you meld the two.

There is no turning back the clock to the days before online shopping, but those of us in the wellness and personal care space have a unique opportunity to make the most of in-store retailing because the nature of our business is innately tactile and intimate. Here's what you need to know to get the best of both worlds.

Clients are Connected

We all know this. It's no longer even really a "trend," it's a reality. A 2013 United Nations study found that 6 billion of the world's 7 billion people have access to a cell phone-that's more than the number who have access to indoor plumbing. Your potential client doesn't only use her phone to find you, check your website, and prowl around your social media presence. She also uses it to research the products you sell, to comparison-shop and price-check, and to read and post reviews.

To be in the game, you have to develop your digital identity and present it consistently across all platforms. You must also continually build your expert knowledge of ingredients, products, treatments, and the latest advances in skin care. If you don't use these opportunities, something is sure to slip through the cracks, and that "something" could be your profit margin.

Clients are More Demanding

The modern shopper has elevated expectations. She is demanding, and feels entitled to be that way. Personalized, on-demand service is the new gold standard in retailing: large online retailers provide it, so shoppers expect it from small businesses, too.

Here's the big takeaway: collect client data, and use it to personalize future transactions and relationships. Whenever a client buys a retail product from you, or interacts with you in any other way, it's an opportunity to build and enhance their client profile.

Enhance the client's shopping experience whenever you can. Fold a little something special into even the most brisk exchange-a product sample, an invitation to an upcoming event, or a certificate for an add-on service-and the client will be motivated to visit again later in a more exploratory mode.

"Online" is a Gateway to "Real"

Giving clients more online options doesn't mean shifting focus away from your traditional retail efforts. Online and in-person sales experiences can, and should, sustain one another.

To optimize your relevance, be sure you make the process of buying your products and services as seamless as possible. Can a client book her next treatment from anywhere, using any method of communication she chooses? Can she order a bottle of cleanser from you as easily as she could from an online retailer, or does she have to take time out of her day to look up your business hours and drive to your location every time she runs out of the product you recommended? There is no reason you can't set up an online store on your website, with options for in-store pickup or same-day shipping for locals.

Shoppers are hungry for instant gratification: shipping time is often the factor that turns people away from digital shopping and sends them in the flesh to your door. Exchanges, returns, and complex transactions also add unwanted delays to the online shopping process. In your spa or salon, there are no such delays. The client can take her purchase home and use it the same day, starting immediately on her program toward healthier skin. If there's a problem, she can contact you personally for advice, and if she needs something different, there's no need to wait several days. It's not so easy to do that with an online purchase, which typically lacks all of this sparkle.

The transaction itself must be crisply functional, but the element of personal connection can strike a chord of authenticity and engagement that's not possible online-making the in-person experience more memorable than chasing bargains.

Every Store is a Showroom

The phenomenon called "showrooming" is common today and it raises the stakes of retailing into the stratosphere. Showrooming is when consumers use a brick-and-mortar store as a place to try out items they intend to buy online later from another vendor. These customers visit your location, get your professional advice, perhaps take up your time for a free skin analysis or consultation, and inspect the products you recommend-but then move on and spend their money somewhere else.

So how can you get clients to stop showrooming and buy that product or service from you? What will persuade them to make a purchase when other merchants offer similar or identical goods and services? Is their decision always simply about finding the lowest price?

Luckily, experts say no, especially when it comes to beauty and wellness products. The answers are primarily sensory and physical. If visiting your spa or treatment room, browsing your retail space, and interacting with you or your staff makes a client feel good on a visceral level, he or she will be willing to commit to purchasing on your premises-even if there is a slightly better bargain someplace else. While your prices must be competitive, small pricing differences will be balanced out in the client's mind by an enjoyable service and shopping experience.

The Experience is Everything

What qualities will get clients off the couch and into your location when they can easily make purchases from home in their pajamas on a rainy afternoon? Build sensory rewards into the experience from the moment your customer steps through your door. Sensory rewards release feel-good endorphins in the brain, which in turn make us feel bonded to others. It's primitive, chemical, and very real. The right sales environment has this effect, with alluring visuals, enticing aromas, warm smiles from the team, and the validation of a curated retail experience. In larger spas, an intuitive floor plan and carefully planned displays can guide clients toward retail sweet spots. Don't forget the enticement of a "gift with every purchase" and other extras!

While shoppers may think they're just stopping by to pick up a moisturizer or to book a chemical peel, the truth is they want an experience-a human, immersive, transformative experience.

Our challenge is to deliver an experience that combines the technical ease and convenience of digital shopping with the less quantifiable aspects of face-to-face human interaction and expertise, both in your retail area and in the treatment room. The key ingredient is you-your personality and your education. You must be prepared to answer all questions a client might ask about a product, a treatment, or any other aspect of your services, and meet all challenges with accuracy and finesse. This education must be ongoing, and if you work with others, it must be company-wide and consistent.

A good digital presence is critical to success, but clicks alone don't make a client feel the love. Back up your online retail presence with an exceptional live experience, and both will support and enhance one another for brilliant branding and a robust bottom line.

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The New Retail Reality