The giant has arrived. Amazon is now in Singapore. The online retail behemoth launched its “Prime Now” service here on July 26th.

This is Amazon’s first foray into Southeast Asia, and their global expansion seems unstoppable. As a brick & mortar retailer, should you be worried?

I wouldn’t panic just yet. Amazon has been in the US for over 20 years, but American brick & mortar retail isn’t dead – it has just adapted. Singaporean retail will have to adapt too.

So what’s the game plan?

First, know where you can’t compete with Amazon.

Let’s start with an uncomfortable truth. Against an online giant like Amazon, there are a few points on which you can’t compete:

However, there’s still one critical area where brick & mortar can always outperform online: the customer experience.

This is the chink in Amazon’s armour. For proof of this, look no further than Amazon itself. The company has spent two decades killing brick & mortar bookshops. But in an ironic twist, they’re now opening real world bookshops of their own. The first Amazon Books outlet opened in 2015

Why is Amazon doing this?

“If you know exactly what you want to buy,” explains Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “we already have this thing called Amazon.com. It’s very, very good at satisfying that need. And so this is about satisfying a completely different need.”

There are certain needs online retail can’t satisfy – and even the world’s largest online retailer admits it.

Customer experience is the weak spot in online shopping. So if you want to survive, that’s where you’ll want to focus your efforts. And if you want to win, you’ll need to turbocharge how you make the customer feel. Here’s how.

1. Provide a superior “curation and discovery” experience

Often, customers aren’t sure exactly what they want – especially if they’re trying to choose between competing products. Help them figure out what they need.

On the Internet, they can read reviews and compare specs. But a faceless, daunting list of competing products simply can’t compare with friendly staff who can provide you with valuable, personalised advice about the products that best suit your needs.

What you’re probably doing now:

  • Giving quick, on-the-job training to your frontline staff.
  • Displaying a product’s basic information and specs in your displays.

Turbocharge the experience:

  • When hiring, look for candidates who are highly knowledgeable about what you’re selling. If they’re veteran customers, they’ll be expert salespeople.
  • If they’re not a veteran customer, make them one: give them some cash to spend on the item and have them explain their purchasing decision.
  • Provide as much relevant information as possible in your displays. Don’t just state the facts – offer your own opinions on the pros and cons of each product.

2. Encourage customers to try-before-they-buy, and make returns a pleasure

This ties in with another area where brick & mortar dominates: touching, trying and testing items before buying. Customers will always place a premium on the ability to try before they buy, and return if it doesn’t work out.

A merchant can win customers over by making returns a pleasurable experience. When customers know that it will be hassle-free to return an item if there’s a problem, they’ll be more likely to buy, and more likely to recommend you to a friend.

What you’re probably doing now:

  • Burying your returns policy in the fine print of your terms & conditions.
  • Making returns feel like a hassle for both customers and your staff.

Turbocharge the experience:

  • Make your returns policy clear to customers, without them having to look it up. Explain with large in-store signs and on receipts that you’d be more than happy to process their returns. Here are some of the best return policies.
  • Optimize your returns process to minimise any loss when there is a return.
  • Make your staff eager to accept returns. Give customers a post-return survey and reward the staff member who scores the highest on this survey each month.

3. Become a destination for tourists

Another area brick & mortar can shine is by appealing to tourists, who spend over a trillion (!) dollars annually. Don’t overlook them as a source of foot traffic. Many tourists like to shop while they’re away, and they’ll never do it online.

If you can figure out how to appeal to tourists and become a destination that naturally draws them, you’re tapping into a market that will never be cannibalised by Amazon.

What you’re probably doing now:

  • Taking out ads on tourist and in-flight magazines.
  • Or maybe nothing!

Turbocharge the experience:

  • Go further up the funnel: build awareness when tourists are planning their trips. One way to do this is to target tourist-centred websites like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet.
  • Proactively ask customers who are tourists to leave you reviews on these sites. Peer reviews are much more powerful than ads. Remember that customers are most motivated to leave a review when they have a negative experience – so encourage and incentivise customers to leave a review when they’re satisfied!
  • Keep tourists in mind when organising your window displays. What products are likely to get their attention and draw them in?

4. Emphasize the warmth of human contact

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of personalisation. Customers love being treated like human beings – an increasingly rare experience these days, especially online.

With every customer carrying a smartphone, it’s never been easier to use technology to give someone a highly personalised in-store experience. Cashiers can use software to remember a customer’s name and preferences, and incentivise them to stay loyal to your brand.

What you’re probably doing now:

  • Training staff to be polite to customers.

Turbocharge the experience:

  • Give your staff software tools to help manage their relationship with customers. With technology they can “remember” each customer’s name and purchase history, identify repeat customers and make them feel valued.
  • Use an automated system to encourage feedback, and make the process as easy and frictionless as possible.
  • Incentivise staff to provide stellar service. Reward them with cash when a customer mentions them by name in a positive review.

The bottom line is that there will always be customers who prefer face-to-face, human interaction. By emphasising this aspect of your business you can make customers feel valued and win your foot traffic back.

Make them feel even more valued with a dedicated loyalty program. Try CandyBar free!

Amazon might be a giant. But even giants have weaknesses.

By focusing your efforts where online shopping cannot compete, you ensure the survival of your business. The best part? Your customers will love you for it, and reward you accordingly.

Posted by CandyBar Team

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