Brick and Mortar retail is one of the most successful business models in human history. Entire towns and cities have been built to fulfil its needs. Even still, people take days or even holidays to spend their hard-earned money in these purpose built venues.
Despite persistent and pervasive pressure from E-commerce, Brick and Mortar businesses still exist, and will continue to do so for a long while yet and this means that there is plenty that e-retailers, even those with stores on the high street, can learn from their ‘real-life’ versions.
Nailing the brand
Let’s take Apple as an example. What makes someone want to shop at the Apple store for a phone case when they could buy one from a market stall for a third of the price?
Apple stores are so well designed to match the feel and emotional pull of their products, and are so distinctly ‘Apple’, that it would be impossible to stroll into a store and forget what it was.
Forbes describes three key principles that have always driven Apple:
• Empathy – fully understanding the needs of the customer.
• Focus – eliminating all unimportant aspects and opportunities.
• Impute – style is as important as substance.
Even today, you can see these three driving principles oozing from every Apple store. Take a look at this floor plan of the Zurich Apple store:
For anyone that’s ever been into an Apple store, this is a familiar scene (even from a 2D diagram). Most Apple stores are laid out like this, and there is a clear reason why – branding.
So at the front of the store, they have their key ‘showpiece’ products, the products that are unmistakeably ‘Apple’ – iPhones, iPads and Macbooks will make up the majority of these displays.
That ticks at least two of their key principles – Focus (these are the high margin, high volume products) and Impute (even the staunchest Apple hater will concede that these are good looking products).
As you walk down through the store, you’ll start seeing all three principles in action –
The kids table, training areas and Genius bar are examples of Empathy (solving the customer’s problem, whether that’s a lack of product knowledge or a bored child).
The obvious consumer products (the iPhones, iPads) fill the centre of the store, while more professional computers run down the side and accessories are tucked down the back. This shows Focus. As soon as the customer walks in, if they have a purchase already in mind, they know exactly where they need to go.
There is lots of empty space in an Apple store (particular compared to other retail outlets) which allows their products to be seen in all their glory, without clutter – both Focus and Impute.
What all this goes to show, is that the Apple brand is as much entwined with their physical stores as it is with their products and their advertising.
And this is all reflected in their online activity.
Take a look at the Apple website and you’ll begin to see a mirror of the physical store –
Firstly, it looks great – Impute – but it’s also simple – Focus.
They know their customers don’t want to run through every product they sell to find what they want – Empathy – so they keep the menu bar simple – Focus.
So what can other online retailers learn from this?
Branding is as important online as it is offline.
Having a strong, recognisable, consistent brand can be the difference between doing reasonably well as an online retailer and being the go-to online retailer in your niche.
Catering for different types of customers
Something that has been honed over years in brick and mortar retail outlets is the understanding of the psychology of shopping and how this can differ for different customers.
Clothes shops know that men and women shop differently.
Women will often browse, perhaps take their time with purchases and consider picking up items they didn’t initially come in for.
Men on the other hand are more likely to walk in, find what they came for and get out as quickly as possible (of course there are exceptions, these are very much just generalisations.)
With that in mind, clothes shops will lay out men’s and women’s departments differently, to reflect the needs of each type of shopper.
The women’s department will often have accessories next to dresses, items that could work together as an outfit, all in one space.
The men’s department, on the other hand, will have clear sections for each type of item – trousers in one area, jackets in another.
You can also see this at play in supermarkets, but for different types of customers.
Next time you head into your local supermarket, take a look at what kinds of items are on the 2nd or 3rd shelf up from the floor.
More often than not, there will be items specifically geared towards appealing to kids – sweets, colourful products etc. – because these shelves fall directly at their eye level. There’s no point putting the sweets on the top shelf because the kids won’t see them.
So how can this be transferred into an online setting?
Let’s go back to the example of Apple. Apple know that different types of customers buy different products from them. Someone buying an Apple Watch is going to be different to someone buying a Mac Pro.
These differences are reflected in the layout, design and content of the pages for these products:
Apple know that most people who buy the Apple watch do so for style and for utility, so their Apple watch page shows how good it looks and says how useful it is.
It doesn’t talk much (or at all) about tech specs, just the benefits and features.
Compare that to the Mac Pro page –
Apple knows the customers who are interested in Mac Pros are much less concerned with how it looks (though, being an Apple product, it is still a consideration) but rather how it performs and its specifications.
So you have at the very top of the page, a menu bar that lets you click on performance and tech spec details right away.
The product description isn’t about how it looks or how it change your life, it’s assumed the customer already knows why they want it, but instead describes how it’s better than competitors and previous iterations.
These two pages clearly show a different approach to each other, because Apple is well aware that each product has a different type of customer who likes to shop in a different type of way.
So online retailers need to bear this in mind just as much as those with stores – different customers want different things and want to access them in different ways– and the style, layout and content of your website should match this.
So there you have it. By incorporating these two key traits of offline stores into your online activities, you may just start seeing the kind of success that Brick and Mortar retailers have had for the last century!