Retail Rescue

Lure customers back to your brick and mortar with these outside-the-box strategies that truly resonate with today’s consumers.

In the age of online ordering, retailers have had to become more creative than ever to attract customers into traditional brick-and-mortar stores. With hundreds of storefronts closing from familiar brand names this year–enough to earn media reports of a “retail apocalypse”–corporate giants and independents alike are struggling to stimulate in-store visits. “The recent technological explosion has blindsided retailers,” admits Barbara J. Crowhurst, CEO of Retail Makeover, a retail consulting firm. “Big companies have so many resources to fight back; but independents, not so much. What can be done?”

As it turns out, plenty. Mastering this new landscape simply requires a bit of creativity and, perhaps, some slight pivoting to cater to what today’s consumers want (and, increasingly, expect) from their shopping experiences. Here, business experts share some key ways to win customers back–and keep them coming back.

EVENT PLANNING
The online experience can never replicate the fun environment and face-to-face camaraderie of in-store events (bonus points if they help educate or make clients feel like insiders or VIPs). “I tell my retail clients to host events with experts, then increase your exposure by using the expert’s social media and email list to promote the event,” says Lindsay Anvik, a business coach and CEO of See Endless, which provides business coaching based in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Then, in-store, an expert can also help you push certain products and encourage additional shopping.”

Malina Dettore, multiunit manager of the four-location Nue Brows to Brazilians + Beaute Bar, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, often hosts pop-up events with beauty vendors or local, noncompeting businesses–such as bringing in medispa pros for Botox parties. “They offer their services at an exclusive rate; they get exposed to our clients, and we get exposed to theirs–many of whom didn’t know about our products and services, which gets us recurring clients,” Dettore explains. “We’ll switch it up: Sometimes we do client appreciation events with champagne and hors d’oeuvres, offering deals on products and services; or, we’ll partner with a makeup rep to do make- overs for specific holidays like Mother’s Day or prom season.”

At Scrubz Body in Farmingdale, New York, owner Roberta Perry similarly sings the praises of fun events that target all age groups, like Make Your Own Scrub parties for kids. “We treat our customers so well that they bring their friends and families,” Perry says. “We host Ladies’ their brand should fit into their customers’ lifestyles and pivot to offer experiences that further illuminate who they are and what they stand for,” Tsukimura explains. “For example, Lululemon offers in-store classes to connect with local fitness communities and The Tile Shoppe offers grouting classes on Saturdays for DIYers to beef up their skills.”

“Shopping online will never be able to give you the same feeling of being part of a movement and moment like visiting a brick-and-mortar location can.”

—Marc Gingras, CEO, Foko Retail

How does this translate to beauty stores? Tsukimura recommends that since beauty is a “treat yourself” moment, an affordable luxury, ask how you can pamper your customers or make them better informed–perhaps through makeup tutorials or panel discussions with popular, local beauty bloggers that you can live- stream from your store.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE
The internet may be smuggling sales from your store, but it can also work to bring them back thanks to social media. Marc Gingras, CEO of Foko Retail in Quebec, Canada, works with top retailers like Whole Foods and Nike and points to the meteoric rise of Glossier as clear evidence that influencer marketing works wonders. “Founder and former model Emily Weiss built her direct-to-consumer business on the success of her blog, Into the Gloss, where she interviewed everyone from Kim Kardashian to Karlie Kloss about their daily beauty routines and secrets, allowing her to replace traditional R&D with one-on-one interviews,” Gingras recounts. “Today, she considers ‘every single woman ... an influencer,’ gauging the success of new products based on their virality on social media and crowdsourcing product ideas based on consumers’ wants and needs.”

You don’t need celebs on speed dial to tap into this trend; you just need a strong brand and social media presence that excites your customers enough to create content, in effect promoting your store for you. Even better, they’ll tell you what they want to see next. “By sharing as many photos of models using their products as regular customers on social media, Glossier’s consumer-first approach to digital content encourages the use of brand-specific hashtags (like their signature #glossierpink),” Gingras adds. “This organically boosts awareness as customers vie for a coveted spot on their Instagram, which has 1.1 million followers and counting.”

Again, you don’t need a million followers to tap into millennials’ crave for Instagram fame–why not spotlight a loyal customer and her must-have beauty picks on social media? She’ll share the post with friends and family and possibly start a conversa- tion, thus expanding your own circle of influence while receiving insight into what customers want.

During events, Tsukimura notes, creating “Instagrammable” moments is key. For example, New York-based media company Brit + Co hosted a pop-up in SoHo to connect with readers and offered an entire area designed for sharing on Instagram. Meanwhile, she says, Glossier uses its signature reusable pouch and stickers to extend the retail experience beyond the store, elevating these seemingly inconsequential items to must-have accessories for “it girls” everywhere.

“Glossier’s pink bubble pouch is very functional to protect purchases, but it has been popping up as a fashion item on the streets of New York,” Tsukimura explains. “And their inexpensive stickers are cheeky and dynamic, while allowing their core audience (millennial women) to promote the brand in their own way.”

GIVING BACK
Today’s consumers prefer to patronize companies with a conscience. Pledgeling, based in Venice, California, is a digital platform that connects retailers and nonprofits; it has seen up to 30 percent revenue growth for companies that integrate social impact into the DNA of their company, reports CEO James Citron. Scrubz, for example, regularly donates to six charities, creating different scents of products to give back. The company has co-hosted a fundraiser called The Breast of Everything for the past decade–making customers feel good about the business’ sense of social responsibility.

Not only will customers appreciate your commitment to improving your community, these efforts will also provide inspiring stories you can share with local media outlets. “Giving back to the community is always a great idea, like bringing in ladies from a local shelter and making them feel special with makeovers,” suggests Adam Leech, founder of Tharros Media in Baltimore. “You can find most of your local reporters on Twitter, so make sure you follow them, interact with them (via retweets, likes and comments) and highlight them in your own social media a couple of months before you let them know about your charitable efforts.”

Similarly, giving-back stories are ideal for sharing on social media. Recently, Dettore and 10 employees at Nue participated in a walk for breast cancer awareness and raised donations for the cause. Community causes and lesser-known charities remain top-of-mind for the business year-round. “We’re always happy to contribute gift baskets or donations,” Dettore says. “We find that, on social media, people like more personal posts, ones that show your staff or tell about your business behind the scenes–not just stock images of products.”

ON THE GROW
Customers may be able to purchase products online, but nothing can replace the personal touch of a professional beauty service, which is why many stores have delved into offering treatments alongside their retail offerings. “Paintbox truly elevates its services, transforming a manicure offering to a high-end boutique experience by presenting designs in a menu, like a fine wine list,” Tsukimura says. “And Benefit Cosmetics builds brand love through experience with its Brow Bar, offering a service that consumers need, and thus forging a deeper connection with the brand.”

At Nue, a full menu of facials and brow and lash beautifiers are complemented by a “secret menu” with intimate-area services. And having treatments brings in extra revenue through retail, too. “Most treatments can be paired with products,” Dettore explains. “Almost every service requires some form of aftercare or upkeep, and we educate clients on the process– why a product is great and what benefits it offers–so they leave better informed.”

But how can you expand the range of what you offer if you have no space to spare? Beyond keeping business hours that fit into more shoppers’ schedules (Crowhurst believes the 10-to-5 model is a thing of the past), think of other ways you can increase convenience.

“Retailers, from drugstores and supermarkets to Nordstrom, are offering valet shopping now–‘just call us and we’ll have your order ready.’”

—Barbara J. Crowhurst, CEO, Retail Makeover

“Retailers, from drugstores to supermarkets to Nordstrom, are offering valet shopping now–‘just call us and we’ll have your order ready,’” Crowhurst says. “It’s a great point of difference for customers who know exactly what products they want; a staff member can bring them to their car, or you can arrange for a staff member or UPS to make a home drop-off.”

Alternatively, she adds, you can work with suppliers to create your own subscription service à la Birchbox. Millennials embrace this type of program, and it adds a monthly revenue stream without requiring a single step inside your store while introducing customers to brands that they might not have tried otherwise.

ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?
Smart retailers know that customers must be wooed from the online mire by offering not just products and services but a full in-store experience. Gingras again points to Glossier as inspiration. “Although first known for being a surprise e-commerce success, they’re increasingly moving their data-driven approach offline by creating a limited number of unique, luxurious, high-concept stores and showrooms–inspired by everything from theater and performance art to magic shows–that are 100 percent Instagram-friendly, just like their brand,” he explains.

Tsukimura agrees that successful retailers must develop their brick-and-mortar experience to one that is “engaging, experiential and traffic-driving.” She also recommends retailers “have a seating area that encourages friends to connect and try products. For example, Roman & Williams Guild in New York City is creating a new definition of retail by combining a cafe/restaurant with a floral shop and home décor retail—blurring the lines between the experience of shopping and dining/relaxing.”

Crowhurst believes that engaging the senses (sight, smell, touch and sound, especially) is key to delighting shoppers. “Offer beverages like tea or strawberry- infused water; provide a seating area or comfort station where they can sit and browse product info online; create a fun area where they can test products; install a television or a video wall with information on products and services,” Crowhurst suggests. “Though it’s so simple, have staff welcome them as they would welcome a guest to their home. Go the extra mile to create that experience.”

Ultimately, a welcoming space sets you apart and resonates far beyond your four walls. “Succeeding in beauty retail isn’t about having a spot at the Nordstrom makeup department or offering a gift with purchase anymore; it’s about bolstering the momentum of your digital brand by creating small, intimate retail spaces that customers need to see to believe,” Gringas concludes. “Follow in the footsteps of this new wave of retailers by first and foremost creating memorable experiences. Shopping online will never be able to give you the same feeling of being part of a movement and moment like visiting a brick-and-mortar location can.”

[Photo by alaj/gettyimages.com; courtesy of Nue Brows to Brazilians + Beaute Bar]