Ecommerce has changed the way the world does business. Forrester predicts that online sales in the U.S. will grow at an annual average rate of 9.32% over the next five years, and studies suggest that worldwide ecommerce sales will account for approximately $3.6 trillion by 2019. Given the size of these numbers, the evidence might seem to suggest that most modern customers are abandoning traditional retail shopping in favor of making purchases online. However, closer inspection proves otherwise.

In 2015, ecommerce sales made up only 7.4% of the world’s total retail market, and it is believed that even by 2019, they will account for no more than 12.8% of the retail market. Altogether, these statistics paint an interesting picture: a world where online shopping is becoming widespread, but where most purchases still occur in store.

The separation between online and retail shopping isn’t quite as clear-cut as some might think. There is a lot of overlap between the two. For example, certain customers enjoy being able to see, touch, and try out products in store before committing to purchasing those products through an ecommerce site. Alternatively, 81% of shoppers use ecommerce sites to perform product research, compare prices, and get a feel for all available options. and may then use that research to inform their in-store purchasing.

In fact, even with the convenience and accessibility of online shopping, 85% of customers would rather purchase from brick-and-mortar retailers than from online sites. And while retail owners certainly stand to profit from this trend — U.S. customers are expected to spend as much as $5 trillion in retail stores by 2020 — there are questions they should be asking themselves: What sets the in-store shopping experience apart from online, and what advantages of ecommerce could be implemented to improve retail?

There is something much more personal about the in-store experience. As mentioned above, shoppers can touch and feel products before they buy them. Trying on clothing, inspecting items from different angles (without having to rely on static online images), and being able to test certain products all help customers feel more confident in their purchases.

That confidence extends beyond the initial sale as well. Should a product fail to live up to expectations, in-store return policies are generally very straightforward, while in some cases, online returns can end up getting complicated. Retail shoppers like knowing that they’ll be able to get their money back without having to play email tag or deal with the stress and long turnaround times of return shipping. The “instant gratification” aspect of in-store shopping applies to returns just as it applies to purchases.

Finally, even with multi-channel support options — including email, telephone, live chat, and social media — many online retailers are lacking when it comes to customer service. Shoppers who prefer to interact directly with retail customer service, ask questions and get recommendations, tend to favor brick-and-mortar shops over ecommerce sites. That said, there are some advantages to online shopping that are worth considering.

How many products can the average retailer keep in stock? Consider a large brick-and-mortar location, such as a Walmart Supercenter. According to the company website, Walmart Supercenters average 187,000 square feet and offer as many as 142,000 different items. As large as that selection may seem, compare it to the number of products offered by a successful ecommerce site. For example, Amazon offered 353,710,754 (nearly 353 million) products as of June 2016.

The reality is that no matter where an in-store customer shops, their choices are going to be drastically limited compared to the vast scope of online retail.

And just as online stores can easily maintain a larger product selection, they can also offer products at cheaper rates. By saving on costs associated with operating brick-and-mortar locations — such as rent, payroll, utilities, fixtures, and so on — ecommerce businesses can afford to give shoppers better prices. A broader selection of items offered at better prices can be a tempting alternative to in-store shopping for any client.

 

The good news for retailers is that new technologies are making it possible for brick-and-mortar stores to give their clients the best of both worlds. Built on advances in digital information gathering and analytics, Salesforce retail CRM gives customers and retail employees a digital advantage that bridges the gap between retail and ecommerce.

With retail CRM, shoppers can take advantage of in-store information kiosks or online resources (available via their own mobile smart devices), to get product information, compare prices, check customer reviews, and more. Additionally, by integrating client information from every touchpoint to develop detailed customer profiles, retail CRM can log purchase histories, provide special offers, and make intelligent product recommendations in a way that is personalized to each shopper.

The personalized shopping experience provided by retail CRM doesn’t end at the point of sale. Customer profiles make it possible for service representatives,, support staff, marketers, and any other customer-facing employees to provide a one-to-one customer journey across any and all channels, including email, social, and mobile.

As for product selection, endless aisle functionality frees retail from the confines of square footage. Shoppers don’t have to worry about products being out of stock or only available at certain locations. Clients can digitally browse through a nearly limitless number of products, and then choose to have their selections shipped either directly to the store, or to a home address. If the client then wants to return the item, they can do so at the retail location, without having to go through the hassle of shipping.

Endless aisle can also be used to improve conversion rates, as store associates don’t have to limit their suggestions to what is currently available on the shelf. Instead, they can sell with confidence, relying on informed insights to offer additional products that shoppers can appreciate. A sizable 79% of customers want to be given personalized offers based on their purchase history, and endless aisle enables the associate to deliver that personalized offer with the confidence that they can fulfill it. Likewise, by extending inventory into digital space, retailers can save on in-store costs and offer better prices.

Finally, retail CRM can optimize employee productivity. With task management tools to help in-store representatives make the best possible use of their time, easy-to-use product and client information resources, effective training tools, and advanced communication options, associates gain the best advantages to do their jobs well. Some 44% of customers feel they know more about a product than the store associate, so giving employees access to reliable product information can really go a long way toward gaining client trust.

All together, retail CRM solutions give retail clients and employees the advantages of ecommerce and CRM, without forgoing the benefits of brick-and-mortar shopping.

Ecommerce has changed the way the world does business, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. The majority of customers still prefer to shop in store, and with the advantage of Salesforce retail CRM, they won’t have to trade the comforts of brick-and-mortar retail for the better prices or broader selection of ecommerce.

Salesforce CRM brings superior data technology to the brick-and-mortar retailers that customers love, and gives those customers even more reasons to want to shop offline. Retail CRM brings retail and ecommerce together in a way that every shopper can appreciate, by giving them the best of both worlds to optimize their shopping experience.

Contact us to talk about the latest Salesforce retail solutions, and let us help you set up a strategy to connect with your customers like never before.