Online or In-store: Meet Shoppers Where They Are


As we head into the fourth quarter, consumers are relying heavily on the internet. Staying at, or close, to home for the past six months has turned even the most fervent in-store browsers into confident virtual shoppers and online orderers. Granted – the internet may not be their favorite venue for viewing and choosing gift items. However, you must continue to expand the online efforts you began in March so you can meet them where – and how – they will shop for the holidays. Here are some tips that can help. It’s going to take work to handle online and in-store efforts equally, but specialty toy retailers have shown they have the capacity to do that.

Add as many products as you can to your digital shelf. Include must-have details – price, description, availability and age range – with good-quality images. Add ratings, reviews, and promotional offers.

Streamline your delivery models to support more online orders. BOPIS and local delivery will continue to be customer favorites throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Stay in constant touch with your customers via email and social media.

Enlist your staff to write quick product reviews from their perspective. Post their favorites once a week with features and benefits.

Personalize email and social media messages to individual customers using purchase ideas, a peek at new products, new service highlights and special custom offers.

“Master one social media platform,” advises The Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs. “While it would be great if we all could do every social media channel well, the reality is, without a lot of money, we can’t.”

Instagram boasts the highest average order value ($65), he says. “If you choose Instagram, make sure you understand why and how to put the link in your bio, how to find the right hashtags, which influencers repost, how to add to your story, how to shoot videos in vertical format, how to use IGTV, how to use captions for your photos, and how to connect your online store to sell via Instagram.”

With Facebook, “Make sure you understand how important LIVE video is, that they are filmed in horizontal mode, why Facebook rewards LIVE videos with great reach, how to create custom audiences and lookalike audiences, and how to connect your online account to allow people to buy via Messenger.”

After Google, more people search on You Tube than on any other site. “It is the most popular platform among teenagers,” Phibbs adds. “If your target is Gen Z, you’ll also want to be on Tik Tok.”

Show customers your in-store safety strategy and invite them to come in. Target BOPIS customers. They tend to purchase more when they go into a store to pick up their online order.

Customers may be comfortable buying online, but they’re also yearning to browse, an experience that should appeal to all their senses. “Wondering how a pair of shoes will look or what’s around the next corner are examples of a major shift in the consumer mindset,” writes Audwin Cash, SVP of Atrius Enterprise Solutions, Acuity Brands. “It’s transforming shopping into something that can be enjoyed and reveled in.”

Consumers are looking for a shopping trip that provides –

Instant gratification. They want to take a prize home today. They’re tired of waiting for a package to arrive tomorrow or next week.

An adventure. There’s nothing like the anticipation of discovering something new, displayed in an exciting way.

Socialization in a safe environment. For some consumers, stores have become the “third place.” In addition to home and work, it’s a safe gathering place for making human connections; essential for our wellbeing.

If your brick-and-mortar store can meet their needs – and customers learn to trust that you will every time they visit – they will turn up at your store again and again. Trust is the operative word. Here are some ways to win it.

Maintain cleaning protocols that shoppers actively witness in-store. Have some associates sanitize fixtures, carts and baskets while others greet customers and answer questions.

To promote social distancing, increase wayfinding signage to help shoppers find what they want independently.

Adjust your layout and merchandising to eliminate bottlenecks, overcrowded pathways, and underutilized aisles. With holiday shopping almost upon us, remember that a successful seasonal layout from last year may create overcrowded and unsafe conditions this year.

Hire a professional photographer to come in when you refresh and re-merchandise your store, and post those  images online.

Sell. It’s the key advantage of bricks-and-mortar retailers. “People who make the journey to your store are committed shoppers,” says Bob Phibbs, on his blog at “Even if they’re looking for one particular product, they are always open to discovering something new. It’s your failure if you don’t make the sale, not theirs. And now more than ever, you cannot afford any failures.” 

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