How retailers can thrive – not just survive – in the online shopping economy

How retailers can thrive – not just survive – in the online shopping economy

My first daughter was born in 1999 and the second in 2002. It’s a safe assumption that I’ve spent thousands of dollars on those two at Toys R Us.

Now, I daily receive an email from the chain with some variation of the subject line “All Our Stores Are Closing: Up to 30% OFF Storewide!” Who could have imagined a world in which Toys R Us couldn’t survive? Welcome to the Amazon era for retail.

Already in 2018, retailers ranging from Foot Locker to Abercrombie & Fitch have announced more than 2,000 store closings. This post isn’t about the death of retail, though. It’s about how retailers have to adapt in an economy where everything is just a click away on your cellphone.

Francesca Nicasio tracks retail trends nationwide with her VendHQ blog, which is one of the most read in the industry. This past week, she talked to retailers and outlined 17 ways to drive foot traffic. Essentially, retailers have to up their game. Nicasio’s tips:

  • Be more targeted with promotions: Don’t just throw up a “Sale” sign. Scour customer data to offer specific deals to your best customers.
  • Hold events: Partner with other brands, nonprofits or retailers to offer a unique experience that can’t be found online.
  • Work with social influencers and brand ambassadors: Identify these people and invite them to your space. Hopefully, they’ll be impressed and spread some positive vibes. If that sounds like “Advanced Social Media 3.0” and you’re still in the beginner classes, offers some tools on how to identify social influencers in your industry.
  • Put on relevant classes: If you sell cooking products, offer cooking classes. If you stock your shelves with games, have a game night.
  • Employ stylists and experts on-site: When shopping online, people have to trust their instincts or YouTube. An expert in your store is something Amazon can’t match.
  • Offer services: If you sell products that require maintenance, look into whether you can service them for free in your store. A major drawback to online shopping is the hassle of getting something fixed if it shows up damaged.
  • Make customer loyalty a bigger focus: It’s easier to keep a good customer than find a new one. Treat your customers like family. Host fundraisers or birthday parties. Show that you care.
  • Implement email marketing: As we discussed in March, email campaigns still have a very high ROI.  This is an excellent way to spread the word about new products or promotions. You can use the campaign for exclusive offers that can only be redeemed on-site. The better you get at such programs as MailChimp, the more you can specifically target customers for different campaigns.
  • Use social media to your advantage: Facebook is the new phone book. You simply have to have a Facebook page. Then explore at least one more channel. Perhaps it’s Twitter or Instagram or LinkedIn. It depends on your target market. Pew Research does the best job of statistically tracking who is using what in social media.
  • Leverage Google’s Local Inventory Ads: This promotes your in-store inventory and helps you monitor the impact of your digital ads. has a good primer on how this helps.
  • Make sure you’re listed: If your business isn’t listed on Yelp, Google or similar sites, then you’re missing out on a world of consumers. Take the time to make sure your company’s name, address and phone number are on there along with accurate business hours, photos and reviews. has a good “how-to” piece to get this done.
  • Offer click-and-collect: Research shows that up to a third of customers who buy something online would rather pick it up at a store than have it delivered. Plus, nearly half of customers who come to a store to pick up an item purchased online ended up buying something while there.
  • Have an online presence: This really needs no explanation.
  • Invest in employee training: You just can’t afford poor customer service when shoppers have the alternative to shop from home. You can no longer just hire someone to fill a slot. A bad shopping experience posted online wipes out dozens of positive reviews.
  • Make sure your staff looks busy: That’s part of employee training. A bored-looking staffer is a major turnoff.
  • Add curbside extras: The window display is important, but add a sandwich board or a bike rack if you’re in a fit-friendly city.
  • Keep your storefront well-maintained: Shopping is an experience. Even antiques shoppers don’t want to see peeling paint. Budget in time and money to keep that window looking new.

A fun, funky store in Galena

We started really researching retail trends recently (alliteration is fun on occasion) when we started working with Poopsie’s in Galena, Illinois. Galena is one of several places that President U.S. Grant called home. Grant was working in Galena when the Civil War broke out. He left the city to enlist, and the rest is history. Galena annually celebrates the President’s April birthday, and you can tour Grant’s home throughout the year.

What really makes Galena fun, though, is its flourishing main street. It’s Main Street shopping corridor is listed as one of America’s Best Main Streets by Fodor’s Travel Guide, and Poopsie’s has been an anchor of that corridor for more than 25 years. Alana Turner bought Poopsie’s in 2010 and she doesn’t see Amazon as the death of Main Street. She sees online shopping as a natural evolution in retail, and only those who adapt survive in evolution.

On April 20, to kick off the annual Grant birthday celebration weekend, Poopsie’s is celebrating the launch of a redesigned website with new targeted online shopping tools. The new features:

  • shopping selector that will use gender, age and interests to help visitors hone in on the perfect gift.
  • The ability to sign up for Poopsie’s LIVE, a service with the convenience of Amazon but with your very own personal shopper. A Poopette, a Poopsie’s personal shopper, will remotely walk an online shopper through the store’s unique mix of items.

Turner keeps up on retail trends and how to make her store an experience even among the dozens of quirky shops in Galena. The April 20 Poopsie’s LIVE Day will feature hourly discounts and giveaways in store and online, a scavenger hunt and partnering with a local nonprofit community center to help it raise money for a new building. Each of these are examples cited by Nicasio.

“The retail business is always changing, and we embrace challenges,” Turner said. “Our online shopping selector and Poopsie’s Live feature will help us create new fans and followers. The fun in retail is trying to figure out what shoppers want and being able to deliver it to them, whether it’s in the store or online.”