How to open a brick-and-mortar in the age of online shopping

The retail industry has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, with more and more people moving towards online shopping. This is a trend that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, as between March 2020 and January 2021 the number of online purchases increased by 30%. And even though the lifting of restrictions saw shoppers return to in-person buying, the overall level of online shopping is not returning to pre-pandemic figures anytime soon. However, while e-commerce has skyrocketed, this has been an underlying trend that global lockdowns accelerated rather than created.

Despite this shift, brick-and-mortars are not going away any time soon. After all, boutique and neighbourhood shops, as well as big brands, still have their charm, and nearly half of consumers prefer to shop in person. If you have dreamt of opening a physical shop yourself, but are wary of the rise of online shopping, here’s what you need to know to do it successfully.

1. Choose the right location

Ensuring you open your shop in a safe, easy to access area, such as a high street or nearby other complementary shops or even competitive shops, will immediately give your store the presence it needs to thrive. For your own convenience, locating the store in a place that has straightforward access to your vendors and suppliers will help eliminate the risk of delays and make your operation run a lot smoother.

Then again, it will be vital to investigate rent costs, the specifics of the building you plan to rent, and any restrictions that may affect your shop. Depending on your business type it may also be more lucrative to seek out a location within an enterprise zone that offers tax relief. When it comes to leasing the property for your shop, business owners are often averse to acquiring a long-term lease (usually between one to five years) because of the uncertainty, but short-term leases often result in a higher short-term base rent.

2. Get the right insurance in place

Opening a business can be a daunting prospect — perhaps it’s what brought you to this guide in the first place. There are the usual risks associated with starting up, especially the anxiety of surviving the first stage, but there are others to consider. Unlike e-commerce, a physical store is vulnerable to traditional risks like a fire or a robbery, which is where shop insurance comes into play. Having this will cover the legal and compensation costs if there is an accident in the workplace, either internally or for a third party. As Brisco Business advises, “holding this coverage keeps you protected in the event of any accidents, ensuring you’re not left footing the bill against any claims”.

3. Give customers an experience

Because of the threat of e-commerce to physical retail, brick-and-mortar businesses need to be able to up the ante experience-wise, or at least complement the ease-of-use factor that drives online shopping. Making the physical store a representation of your brand is the foundation of giving shoppers the unique experience they expect. Consider the physical space of the store, and how it might feel to your customers. This might mean incorporating technology to improve the customer experience, but for those starting out, these are likely only to be small details, such as offering contactless payment or even click and collect.

As the face of the brand, shop employees should also receive communication and support in providing excellent customer service, and building the brand’s identity through giving a consistent impression of your business they can easily recall. Interpersonal experiences foster trust, so if you value your customers and the physical presence e-commerce doesn’t provide, your customers may get that added reason to visit and see what you are selling.

4. Create attractive loyalty schemes

In short, give customers a reason to return. One advantage online shopping has is discount codes, with many web browsers now capable of providing users with extensions that even find codes for them. That said, these can be inconsistent, and the advantage of a physical shop is that initiatives such as loyalty cards offer an evergreen way of giving customers an incentive to return. Others, like a tier-based program, can motivate customers by making some offers more exclusive than others.

Having a clear social mission, moreover, has significant appeal too, with a whopping 78% of UK consumers believing that business “should have responsibility for people and the planet”. Customers will appreciate it if, for instance, sales revenue on particular purchases they make are donated to charity, giving them a sense of having a social impact beyond themselves.

5. Market yourself locally

Aside from opening up near to your ideal customer base, targeted marketing towards your specific demographic will encourage them to step inside. But local marketing is also influenced by your online presence, as your website visibility and social media profile will be the easiest way for potential customers to learn about your company.

Having data on the locations of your target demographics, including their geography and buyer personas, will help you identify when and where they are likely to shop, to which you can then tailor your other strategies. For instance, localizing your website will tell local customers that the business and your online content are relevant to them, while including location pages to your website will also announce your proximity. Check out this article by HubSpot for a more in-depth guide to these marketing strategies.


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