How Retailers Can Counter Online Shopping

NancyRetailers can counter online shopping by turning up their customer service. By Nancy Friedman

Toys “R” Us recently announced plans to close 182 stores nationwide. Macy’s, Sears and Kmart have also announced plans to close stores. They are among the thousands of big and small retailers who have announced closings or slumping sales, in great part, due to online shopping.

The rise of the Internet, mobile and e-commerce over the past two decades has chipped away at the market share of brick-and-mortar retailers. Studies and sales data show online shopping gaining strongly while in-store sales have struggled.

According to TechCrunch, 79 percent of U.S. consumers shop online, up from just 22 percent back in 2000. Some 217.1 million people in the U.S. are online shoppers, and those figures are projected to reach 224 million in 2019. In addition, Cushman & Wakefield predicts 12,000 stores will close in 2018, up from 9,000 last year.

Shoppers have made it clear they want to do more of their shopping online and on their smartphones. So, what can store owners do? One tried and true business tactic – customer service – is becoming even more important in attracting buyers and keeping them as repeat shoppers.

The “Amazon Effect”, the popularity and ease of online shopping and the related changes in consumer behavior and preferences, is forcing store owners – from major franchisers to main street storefronts – to get serious about providing outstanding customer service. Stepping up customer service not only attract consumers into your store, but keeps them coming back.

More business is lost due to poor service and poor treatment than poor product. Stores spend thousands of marketing dollars trying to convince us to buy their products, but if that contact is not handled just right by customer service representatives at the point of sale, all that money is wasted. Customer service failures not only impact sales and return business, but can also damage a brand and lead to online shaming on social media.

Now more than ever, smart retail owners and managers must invest in customer service training programs. As the Internet continues to cut into store sales, retailers need to enlist experienced customer service professionals to teach their employees how to navigate every possible issue and complaint. Sadly, apathy is a major roadblock among business owners who compete daily versus online shopping.

They are so busy trying to survive that they overlook the importance of customer service as a way to counter the online threat. From a retail store salesperson, to a greeter at a restaurant, to representatives at a call center, retailer owners and managers need to train their employees on how to deal with the consumer if they are to compete against the technology threat.

There will always be a place and need for stores. People like perusing aisles, visiting glitzy showrooms and running their fingers over soft fabrics. But the rise of e-commerce and mobile shopping not only moves individual sales online, but also builds new shopping habits, so that consumers gradually see the living room couch as a good-enough replacement for their local store. The best way to counter the threat is to provide excellent customer service by training your employees, giving the shopper a reason to turn off technology and shop, buy and return to your store.

Nancy Friedman is one of the country’s top customer service experts, and the president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training Inc. in St. Louis.

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