All About the Intersection of Ecommerce and Brick & Mortar

Just over a year ago, Amazon made waves when they acquired Whole Foods for $14 billion, their largest acquisition ever. One year later, major grocers are fighting to keep step by expanding their own digital and delivery options. It’s safe to say Amazon’s acquisition has shifted the grocery landscape, forcing brick-and-mortars to think of ecommerce as a fundamental piece of the puzzle when they consider the needs and wants of their target audience.

In this sense, the entire shopping landscape is changing! When it comes to target markets, we can’t really think in terms of “brick and mortar shoppers versus ecommerce shoppers” anymore. Instead, we have to blend the two together and acknowledge that people don’t want to shop at one over the other exclusively; they want both. Amazon didn’t start that phenomenon, but they did notice and run with it.

If you own an ecommerce business, you might be a few steps off from a major brick and mortar acquisition — but there are still ways to think about what the intersection of ecommerce and brick and mortar means for you. Here are three things this blended shopping ecology has taught us about customer behavior, and how that can inform your ecommerce decisions:

1. Sometimes people want the convenience of ecommerce, but they need something now.

Despite the fact that there isn’t an “either/or” anymore, most people do have a generalized preference for either ecommerce shopping or in-store shopping. Some people, for example, enjoy getting out of the house for awhile to browse around a store and engage with the products, whereas others think of shopping as a “chore” and would rather avoid it completely.

You can still think about what an urgent customer need looks like for your industry, so that you can provide the best possible customer experience.

And then there are the people who gravitate to ecommerce whenever they can, but a last-minute event or immediate need forces their hand. This is a major reason Amazon moved into the brick and mortar world in the first place: those “immediate need” situations aren’t ever going to go away: a broken coffee maker when you rely on coffee to wake up, replacement batteries for your child’s favorite toy, or a carton of milk that runs out mid-recipe. Amazon addresses this by providing one-hourish delivery from one of their local warehouses or Whole Foods. You might not be able to do the same, but you can still think about what an urgent customer need looks like for your industry, so that you can provide the best possible customer experience.

Many times, this is as simple as offering faster shipping options for customers who want to pay for it. Some immediate needs aren’t as immediate as, “I don’t have enough milk for this recipe” and are instead more along the lines of, “I forgot to get an outfit for the company party and it’s in three days.” In cases like that, the right shipping options can get your products to the customer in time, but communication and follow-through are essential. You won’t always know the deadlines that your customers are working with, so communicate shipping times as clearly and honestly as you can. You’d rather have a customer shop elsewhere to meet her needs than deal with an irate and empty-handed customer later.

2. With certain products, trying before buying is still important.

Another thing that can force ecommerce enthusiasts out of the house to a brick and mortar is their need to try something out or on before purchasing it. This is common with apparel, especially those notoriously inconsistent mysteries like shoes or women’s jeans. However, it’s also common with electronics, cosmetics, furniture, certain tools, big-ticket purchases, and more. The common theme among these customers is a desire to see how the product will work for them, and to verify the quality and performance.

As an ecommerce merchant, you can address these needs both pre- and post-purchase. Pre-purchase, make sure your product descriptions cover everything your customers might want to know; you can even embed videos demoing each product so the customer doesn’t have to go to a physical store to demo it. Your site navigation can assist here by organizing your customers based on their needs (“Shop by X” is a common way to do this) so that by the time they arrive at the product, they feel like the options have been tailored for them. Solicit plenty of reviews, because those, too, can sub in for an in-person experience.

Despite your best efforts to describe the product and show it in action, it still might not fit or for the customer.

Post-purchase, make your return policy as fair and flexible as you can afford to. Despite your best efforts to describe the product and show it in action, it still might not fit or for the customer. Since they gave up the “try before buy” experience to shop at your store, show them you appreciate their leap of faith by letting them return what doesn’t work out.

3. People are busy — but also a little lazy.

At the end of the day, options like delivery, ordering online for in-store pickup, and ecommerce shopping all highlight the same thing: people don’t want a shopping trip to eat up two hours in their day, along with a lot of their energy. We lead busier lives than ever, which sometimes means we’re lazier than ever, cutting corners where we can so that we can focus on fitting more in. As an ecommerce store owner, this is something you can very much work with.

Don’t make customers hunt for information.

Understanding that people lead busy lives means streamlining everything you can to make sure the shopping experience is as fast and easy as possible for your customers. Don’t make them click on five different categories before they get to a product when they could click on one. Don’t make them hunt for information. Anticipate their questions and answer them before they have to ask. Don’t force them to create a customer login when they check out (but give them the option, because for repeat visitors it’s the most convenient choice). If they expect to find your contact information or a home page link in a certain place, provide it.

This is a major difference between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar shopping: making your customer feel heard and well-attended means keeping them with you for less time (within reason), not more. Follow up on any questions that do arise as quickly as possible, and then consider incorporating that information into your site so that future customers don’t have to ask the same question. When you provide a seamless, streamlined experience from point of entry to shipping confirmation, you show that you respect your customers’ time. And regardless of where the trends go tomorrow, that one’s here to stay.

Have any questions about how brick and mortar stores can relate to ecommerce? Ask them in the comments!

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