How Brick and Mortar Stores can Compete with Amazon

The media enjoys lamenting the death of the brick-and-mortar store. It almost gleefully reports on the closure of department stores and e-commerce behemoths, like Forever 21, and decries the shopping mall as a relic. The destruction, they say, is the product of Amazon and the growth of other e-commerce platforms, which destroy all businesses in its path.

There’s one thing missing from these all-too-common stories — and that’s the facts. In 2017, Americans spent $3.49 trillion with retailers, and only about 13% of it was spent online. While e-commerce is exploding, consumers still spend 86% of their cash in physical stores. Brick-and-mortar stores have competition, but they’re very far from becoming an endangered species.

Are you feeling the pinch from companies like Amazon? There are still plenty of ways to fight back. You can’t beat Amazon on price, but you can step up your game in ways that matter more.

Make Immediacy Work for You

Why does Amazon do so well? It is the quality of the products? No. It’s strangely not the variety, either. Instead, it’s the psychology behind some of Amazon’s best features that help it stand out from the crowd: a one-click purchase button and next day shipping. Customers shopping for immediate gratification or simplicity face no barriers to happiness. There’s no mechanism that stops and asks, “Are you sure?”

Immediate gratification is something that brick-and-mortar stores can do so much better than Amazon. Even Amazon’s fastest shipping method requires wait time — both to leave the warehouse and for the buyer to sit around waiting for deliveries. If you need something, a brick and mortar store puts it in your hands immediately.

One way you can take advantage of the same psychology is by letting customers know what’s in stock. Sure, the joy of running a physical retail presence is allowing customers to experience the joy of a serendipitous find. But by sharing your stock online — on social media or your own e-commerce site — you tap into the section of buyers who come in for something in particular. Plus, you give them the same gratification they’re looking for from Amazon. Instagram posts and stories are a fantastic way to show off your favorite regular or seasonal stock and remind customers that you’re here right now.

Want to go the extra mile? Skip expensive shipping options and offer delivery via apps like Postmates instead.

Offer Something More Valuable

What does value mean to your customers? Hint: it doesn’t have much to do with price.

Value is one of the most important ways you can not only maintain but grow your brick-and-mortar store, but it means something different to everyone. In some industries, it means providing superior customer service: knowing what your products are, where they came from, and what other customers think of them is a great start. Some stores can create a unique experience by sourcing products that stand out from the crowd: supporting other small businesses and stocking things that your customers can’t order with one click on Amazon.

Offering something of value requires some market research. Ask your customers what they value — both online and offline. You’ll quickly find that the easiest way to add something worthwhile to your brick-and-mortar store is to give the people what they want.

Go Mobile

Your ability to not only exist but thrive depends not just on your in-store experience but your digital one, too. One of the biggest mistakes a retailer can make is thinking that their physical presence makes up for a lack of a user-friendly digital life.

Why not enable a digital view inside your store? In China, shoppers on the hunt for food in 7FRESH, a grocery store, can scan products with their mobile phones for more product information. You’ll see the same kind of app integration in Amazon Go stores. A keen favorite is the Sam’s Club Now product: it includes smart shopping lists, navigating, and one-hour curbside pickup.

These all take serious R&D, but similar things are possible for the small business without a dev team. You don’t need an augmented reality experience, or even anything remotely fancy. The best retail apps enrich your store experience and provide new ways for your business to interact with your customers. Some quick ideas include:

  • QR code readers
  • Mobile payments
  • Push notifications
  • Loyalty programs
  • Layaway and delivery

You can put all of these together using a third-party solution, or work with a developer for a custom solution (if your market calls for it).

Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Offer More than Amazon

Brick-and-mortar stores are run by real people who customers can come to know and love — not algorithms. It’s in your ability to build relationships while also catering to their new expectations that makes your store a force that Amazon and its ilk can never fully reckon with.

You don’t need same-day delivery: you already offer that by existing in your community. The most important thing is listening to what your customers want, and you don’t need millions in R&D funds and a team of techies to do that. All you need to do is ask.

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Brooke Faulkner
Brooke Faulkner is a mom, writer, and entrepreneur in the Pacific Northwest. She loves all things literary, doggish, and plant-based. Of those, words are her favorite. You can find more of her work on Twitter @faulknercreek.
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