Applying the Human Touch to Compete with Online Retailers


In the age of the online giants, the physical stores that used to line our high streets are suffering and those who don’t adapt, seem doomed to fail. It’s estimated that around 5,855 UK retailers closed down last year, while online giants such as Amazon and AO continue to grow at a substantial rate. However, offline retailers who embrace a human touch can continue to compete by focusing on the things which you simply can’t get from the internet.

The human element

Shopping, for many of us, isn’t just about acquiring goods. It’s also a chance to get out of the house, escape the everyday life and maybe meet up with friends. While it’s true that online shopping is super convenient today, with same-day and next-day delivery becoming increasingly common, there’s a social aspect to visiting a shop that online retailers can’t compete with. The face-to-face interaction you experience while shopping and the ability to actually see, touch, taste, hear and smell the goods is the key to survival.

Face-to-face customer interaction

Although setting up an online store may have its own appeal, saving on the rent for one, the customer service is often lacking. You only have to look at Twitter to see the number of complaints clothing companies get to see that they’re doing it wrong. Although we always recommend combining both online and offline, having a great in-store experience is where you can gain the upper hand. Seizing every opportunity to talk to your customers and asking them questions will help you to improve what you offer and deliver a top-level service. Inviting customers to special in-store occasions as a way of thanking them for their support is a great way to strengthen brand loyalty and has a much bigger impact than any online survey.

Use all five senses

In order to stand out from the online world, you have to create a memorable in-store experience. The best way to do this, which no online retailer can offer, is to make use of all five senses. One of the masters of this thought process is handmade cosmetics company Lush. Lush encourage their customers to interact with their products every chance they get. They do this through live demonstrations with their both bombs and by having sample products for virtually all products so you can try out the product before you buy. The experiences you have in-store leave a lasting impression and helps set their brand apart from their competitors. Supermarkets who participate in free sampling have reported sales growth of up to 1,200% for the sampled product.

Wherever possible, always encourage customers to interact with your products. Give out free samples and show people how your product can be used. The more you can get somebody to interact with a product and imagine it being in their lives, the more likely they are to buy.

Share your story with the customer

Everybody loves a good snoop every now and then; it’s just human nature and something that’s genuinely interesting to the people who visit your shop. Sharing your story and the inner workings of a typical day helps to build a rapport with customers. This could be a simple as showcasing the journey your products go through before they hit the shelves which works particularly well if you’re providing locally or ethically sourced goods. You could also empower your employees by making a feature of the people who work for your company – how do they make your business what it is. By giving people a glimpse into the process, which you can do through the use of social media, you’ll build a stronger connection with your brand.

Give exclusive access to new products

Product launches are a great opportunity to get together with the local community and build recognition. You don’t necessarily need to be releasing new products for these events, you could just be introducing a new line for the summer collection, adding a new item to your menu or reintroducing your Christmas stock. Host an exclusive event for your best customers, giving them a chance to see the goods before anyone else. Use these events to build relationships with other businesses in the area and see them as an opportunity to show off your unique brand personality. You can also invite members of the local press to get involved – bloggers, magazines and newspapers – for some free PR.

Independent retailers can offer something different from the big ‘copy and paste’ retailers by establishing a local presence. Get involved with local charities and events to build up brand recognition in your community. Start by maybe sponsoring an event or by supporting a local team.

Keep customers coming back

Most online retailers offer a loyalty programme of some form, so why can’t you? Loyalty stamps are popular in cafe’s – buy 8 drinks and get the 9th free for example – but can be used for other retailers too. A report by Nielsen found that 84% of consumers are more likely to choose a retailer that offers a loyalty program, something that the likes of Holland and Barrett have had massive success with by tying it in with their online activities. Every time you buy a product, you receive points which can be redeemed for money-off vouchers, but in order to attain a loyalty card, you have to provide your email address. The emails you receive are designed to motivate you to go back in store and spend. They make you aware of new products and the various sales they have throughout the year – which keeps their brand in your mind.

Physical stores who embrace these techniques will continue to prosper and compete with the ever-competitive online world. Although it’s true that consumers will always seek the convenience of online stores, there will always be a place on our high streets for the independent retailers that embrace the human touch.

About the Author

Time & Tide offers customers a selection of furniture and home accessories designed to work together in a wide range of interior settings. We call this relaxed living – clean, versatile items that work in both traditional or contemporary settings. This is a primary consideration across our entire product offering in our Scottish based shops stores and online.