Brick and Mortar

Brick n Mortar 

The power of experience:

How brick-and-mortar retail can thrive in the age of e-commerce.

By Dana Spinola

In today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy society, e-commerce is changing the game for retail as we know it. As CEO of a fashion enterprise with 42 retail stores and a full e-commerce space, I’m always watching advancements like mobile apps, drone delivery and digital assistants and how they entice online shoppers with increasingly simple and accessible methods.

Yet despite our growing dependence on technology, the vast majority of retail sales are still generated in-store.

This is a good thing for our savvy, talented storeowners. But, it still begs the question: Why do shoppers choose brick-and-mortar over the convenience of e-commerce? Because in-store shopping provides the perfect opportunity to transform an errand into an experience.

Experience Over Convenience

Think about it: When your best friend comes to town, or Mom wants to spend the day together, or you want help finding the perfect date night dress — do you huddle around a computer screen and shop online? No. You head to your favorite boutique, find your favorite stylist, ask for opinions, push each other to try on something a little outside your comfort zone, share secrets in the dressing room and take selfies for Instagram when you’ve each found the perfect piece. The experience makes you feel beautiful, connected and simply happy.

By nature, we are social creatures meant to experience life together – a fact which plays to the advantage of brick-and-mortar retailers in fashion and beyond. If we are naturally inclined to seek dynamic, social experiences, how can retailers create in-store experiences that feel less like an inconvenience or obligation and more like a special occasion? Regardless of the industry, the key is always to know your customer and to give them exceptional, personalized customer service.

Our job as a retailer is simply to create a “wow” experience. We’ve learned the opportunities to go above and beyond are endless. From driving gift options to a busy husband’s office who needs a last-minute anniversary gift to sending a bottle of champagne to the restaurant for your customer’s girl’s night out event they were just shopping for, meeting your customer where they are creates loyal clients.

We train our stylists (in-store associates) to look for those “wow” moments. This level of service is typically found at companies like The Ritz-Carlton, Saks Fifth Avenue and others. We wanted to replicate that at the boutique level, and create an environment where everyone could afford to feel beautiful.

Odds are, other retailers are offering competitive products to the same audience. An incomparable in-store experience is the best opportunity to differentiate from competitors and elevate the brand’s position in the marketplace.

Create a memorable experience by exceeding expectations with sincerity, kindness and a little bit of “wow.” Learning customers’ stories allows retailers to find thoughtful, organic ways to engage them on a personal level. A product is something a customer will use; but an experience is something a customer will share.

Corporate Culture’s Influence

When you cast a vision for your brand, allow it to inform the way you hire, train and live. Exceptional customer experience starts with exceptional company culture. Build experience into culture by infusing it into processes and core values.

Hire a team of creative, caring and motivated employees who share in the collective vision and feel personally responsible for creating an extraordinary brand experience for every partner, customer and potential franchisee. A “wow” culture starts at the corporate level and trickles down into each individual customer interaction.

If employees feel valued and celebrated at every level of the brand, they are far more likely to project that experience onto customers. We have “wow” awards every year to celebrate the best of the best because it is one of our core values.

OK to Bend the Rules

When it comes to acquiring and retaining customers, sometimes you have to bend the rules to create a “wow” moment that will win them for life. We have had an in-store stylist literally give a customer the shirt off her back! We didn’t have the shirt in another size and the customer kept saying how much she loved it, so our stylist got it dry cleaned and mailed it to her the next day.

One small act of kindness that makes them feel like a VIP is enough to earn a loyal brand ambassador. You’ll reap any lost profit in manifold ways as your customer shares their great experience with friends and returns to your store time and time again.

So go ahead, get creative. Can’t get them exactly what they need? Call another store that can. They need something immediately? Charter a delivery service – or better yet, deliver it yourself! Whether it requires time, money or effort, every act of kindness is a valuable investment in brand loyalty. The win-win is that your team will fall more in love with their jobs because they are given the trust and permission to use their best judgement to take care of customers.

The E-Commerce Amplifier

Instead of competing with e-commerce, the best brands marry their brick-and-mortar channels with online components for amplified brand presences. Customers love in-store shopping for its social, tactile and experiential elements. Brick MortarThat will never change. An exceptional store experience fosters incredible brand loyalty, which keeps your customers coming back for more.

E-commerce does not compete with brick-and-mortar but rather helps to extend a brand’s reach and accessibility when in-store shopping is not feasible. Our boutique is not in every city, but customers that travel or move away from a nearby location can use our website to shop until the next time they are near a store. E-commerce can never take the place of the in-store experience.

Continual Innovation is Key

At the end of the day, people need people. We are social beings who crave the escape into a boutique that takes you away from the craziness of a day or to celebrate life moments. Connect with everyone you meet in a way that makes your brand a part of their everyday life. Mission, product and experience are the three pillars of brand success, and you should never stop seeking ways to challenge and improve each.

Don’t be afraid to try new approaches to your customer service. What seems outlandish? Completely above and beyond? Maybe it will be the exact approach you need to imbue a new, successful differentiator. If you think something will resonate but it doesn’t, innovate.

Let the customer’s response dictate your approach, and when something works, stick with it and amplify it for even better connection. Don’t be afraid to give them the shirt off your back!

Dana Spinola is the CEO and founder of fab’rik, a clothing boutique founded in 2002 and which began franchising in 2006. 


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