Last week I shared an article with my business newsletter subscribers about the current state of Barnes and Nobles. If you’re not familiar with the company they sell books and related materials. They’ve been in business since the 1960’s but as with other book stores have suffered since the advent of eBooks and online shopping. So as I was reading the article it got me thinking about what the reason for physical stores is anyway. Technically all businesses are physical businesses because there’s a person somewhere behind each of them, but what about businesses with physical stores you can go to to shop at? What’s the benefit and should you have one? Let’s start off with who should have one:
1-you’re selling a hands-on service. This would be something like a cooking class, yoga class, gym membership or something else that works best if people come to you rather than you going to them or providing the service over the internet. Yes, you can sell them online but traditionally they’re known for being off line.
2-you’re selling services only to a local market. If your goal is to reach the local community having a physical presence where your potential clients will see you during their day-to-day activities is beneficial and can go a long way to encouraging them to shop with you.
It’s important to note that I don’t recommend just having a physical presence/storefront. Not taking advantage of the internet, even if it’s just for marketing not selling purposes is a big mistake in this day and age. Everyone should have a website and do some online marketing whether a blog, social media, a newsletter and/or others. So if we all have an internet presence, what’s the benefit of having a physical one?
Primarily that you sell something that people would prefer to see/touch/experience before buying. I can’t say I want to buy fruits, vegetables or fish online, many people like to try on clothes before buying them or experience a technology device when considering different options. But just about anything and everything can be purchased online, especially products, so if a majority of your products can be and are purchased online, i.e. books, clothing, technology, health items etc. will the physical storefront be going the way of the Dodo soon?
One key to having a successful storefront, and the thing that I think could be the defining factor in whether or not storefronts stay alive, is the experience they provide to a customer. For the majority of non-fresh food businesses if all you’re doing is selling a product there’s no reason to buy from your physical store vs. your online store. But if your in-store experience makes buying a product exciting, adds value to the purchasing experience or adds something completely different to the company separate from the products like demonstrations, education, celebrity experiences etc., you’re taking full advantage of all that a physical location can offer.
So if you’ve got a physical location, are you doing all you can to maximize it, or would you be more successful closing the doors and just running your business online?