Online and physical shop: hedging your bets pays off

Shops that sell their products online and in a physical shop at the same time, so-called multi-channel and omni-channel companies, often generate more turnover. Erna Mecking opened an online shop alongside her brick & mortar shop in early 2020 and shares some key pointers. Retail expert Ronald Visser weighs in with his own advice.

In the past five years, high-street shops have seen visitor numbers fall by half, according to the Purchase Flow Survey (in Dutch). Consumers are buying more online and their purchasing behaviour has become more deliberate. To keep your brick & mortar shop competitive, embrace an omni-channel or multi-channel strategy and start an online shop.

Omni-channel versus multi-channel

What is the difference? Omni-channel companies have multiple sales channels, like an online shop and a brick & mortar shop, but just one, uniform customer experience. With a multi-channel strategy, your customer experience and pricing can vary from one channel to the next. Mecking wants customers to have the same experience in her online shop as they do in the brick & mortar shop. In other words, she has an omni-channel strategy.

“I wanted to do the online shop right and offer customers the same personal touch we do in real life. I put lots of time into shooting photos and videos in the shop. The outfit videos that show how clothes really fit are a big hit.

Half of all Dutch retailers have adopted an omni-channel strategy (in Dutch). 34% only have a brick & mortar shop, with the rest plying their trade online.

Why do both?

Mecking got lots of questions when she started an online shop to complement her brick & mortar shop. Her response was always to the same: “I had to follow the market.” "I saw that the online market was growing. When the COVID 19 pandemic hit and my customers kept asking me about an online shop, I decided to combine both channels.”

“If you do not adapt, you will slowly disappear”, Ronald Visser agrees. As programme manager and researcher in Entrepreneurship and Retail Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, he is always aware of the latest retail developments. Omni-channel and multi-channel are now a standard part of retail degree programmes.

Added value of brick & mortar

Although many companies are opting for multi- or omni-channel strategies, brick & mortar stores still have their value, Mecking points out. “Customers prefer trying on clothes in the shop or drop by to socialise.” Mecking loves the personal contact with her customers. “Talking to customers tells me what products they are looking for.”

Visser recommends thinking carefully about the added value you want to offer customers in your brick & mortar shop: “Adding new services (in Dutch) might sound nerve-wracking, but it can be very easy and fun if you stay close to your product and passion. Wine shops could consider organising small-scale wine tastings or cocktail courses, for example. Your customers get a fun evening out and the chance to sample your wares, while you get to provide advice and showcase your expertise.”

Other examples of extra services include:

  • Bookshops with a coffee corner in which customers can relax and read or chat about new books.
  • Electronics shops that let customers test and experience products.
  • Clothing shops that offer personal styling advice, such as private shopping.

Broaden your audience with an online shop

Omni-channeling proved to be a golden opportunity for Mecking. Partly because of the many online shoppers, her online shop got off to a flying start. “Orders are coming in from all over the country, and my plus-size product range is attracting new customers. The online shop has helped me reach a larger, broader audience.”

A successful combination

Constant innovation will help you make the most of your physical and online shop. Mecking: “The growth has forced me to change how I run the business. Due to increased demand, I now buy bigger volumes and only post videos on social media after the store closes. New posts often lead to lots of online orders, which I then process right away.”