The online world is not different from your brick and mortar location. Customers view your company as one entity and not as two distinct departments (online and off). Your business may need to realize this and remove the chasm that sits between your website and your retail location.
I recently needed to price lumber for a few garden boxes my wife wanted me to build. Home Depot’s website allowed me to search my neighborhood store for in-stock lumber and easily locate the prices I needed to budget my project. I was able to find the information I needed quickly and without having to drive to the store and deal with finding someone to help me.
When customers need a product from their favorite store, they don’t want to drive to each location trying to find it. Ideally they could visit the store’s website, search the inventory, and then see which stores in the area have that product in stock.
You and your customers win when they can find the product they want to buy. An easy-to-find product will be purchased. A hidden product will never be found and will just gather dust on your shelves.
Sales, Discounts, and Pricing
Too many online stores have no correlation or knowledge of their offline counterparts. During a past visit to electronics superstore Fry’s, I asked the sales person if they could sell me the gizmo I wanted at the price shown on their website. The answer was no because “the website has nothing to do with our store here and is completely separate.”
Your company’s website should clearly state when a price isn’t valid in the store. This is a great opportunity to offer “web only” sales and opportunities to push your products through the more cost effective web channel. However, when you fail to inform the customer about price differences, confusion results.
One of the major hurdles of online shopping is the cost of shipping and the wait time before your package arrives. Often times it is cheaper to go to the store and buy something than pay for the online shipping. Additionally, customers may need the product pronto and can’t wait for delivery. Don’t lose customers because of these shipping obstacles, let them pick up the product they buy online at your store down the street. Circuit City has heavily marketed exactly this purchasing opportunity to their benefit as a company.
When buying online, you never quite know if the product you’ll get will work or even match what you saw on the website. This doubt may be just enough to impede the online sale. A customer friendly return policy can go a long way to resolving those concerns. However, if customers have to ship something back (often at their expense) it may not justify the risk of buying from you.
Wal-Mart, Old Navy and Sears/Lands’ End, for example, let you buy online and return the product to any of their retail locations. You can buy with confidence knowing you can always take it back without the return shipping hassles.
Unify Your Sales Channels
Your website and your store both fall under the umbrella of sales. Both should allow the customer to find what is needed and make the purchase. If one of these sales channels isn’t able to serve the customer, it should gracefully redirect them to the other. They should both work hand-in-hand to help the customer locate and purchase your products.