Bridging the Gap Between Online and Brick-and-Mortar

Anna Pfeiffer, Senior Marketing Strategist

Anna Pfeiffer, Senior Marketing Strategist

I just moved into a new home and am working on quite a few improvements. Project #1 was redoing the tile in the master bathroom. I looked online at and picked out my pattern. I was ready to get started, so I headed to the store for materials! When I got there, I put all of the necessary tools in my cart and went to the flooring section.  To my dismay, they didn’t carry that tile in the store – it was a special order product. I was disappointed because I had come into the store wanting to look at a sample, but the sales associate quickly ushered me to their computer and placed the order for me. It would be delivered to the store for free in a couple of weeks. Luckily for Lowes, the clerk bridged that gap and made the sale when otherwise I may have left to check Home Depot instead.

Now I’m the type of consumer who would have gone home and ordered the tile online anyway. But what if I wasn’t? What if I had just gone to the next home improvement big-box store? What if the pattern I had picked out wasn’t from Lowes and I decided to buy online from someone else since they didn’t have it in-store? Then they just lost a sale. This, and countless other experiences both personal and anecdotal, illustrates the importance of bridging that gap. Consumers are going to shop in a manner that is easiest, most convenient and typically least expensive for them. Retailers have to adapt to make that happen via a targeted omnichannel approach.

Fighting showrooming with kiosks

Brick-and-mortar stores have been increasingly at risk of becoming a “showroom” only, where consumers visit to gather more information and get a hands-on feel for the product they are considering. But armed with their Smartphone, they’re surfing the web for the best deal possible. Stores have to adapt to this change in order to maintain customers and drive loyalty. One tactic that has seen increased adoption since 2010 is putting a kiosk in the store to facilitate online purchases. Kohl’s, for example, started out with a kiosk that calls out to the customer, “Don’t have the size or color you’re looking for? You can find it online here.” They emphasize free shipping as well.

The latest big retailer to take this approach is Staples, which has experienced large growth in online sales over the last few years. They have recently launched a couple of stores that have several kiosks around the floor that push customers to shop online, and therefore have decreased inventory at these locations. These stores are armed with resources to let consumers and store employees provide a richer, more in-depth experience in product research and comparison shopping. The kiosks also provide a much larger array of product selection than could ever possibly be housed in one physical store. Staples also strongly integrates mobile shopping into the experience in these stores and in their standard stores as well. This is an important aspect of omnichannel success – your consumers are going to be using their mobile device while they are in the store, so you’re best off owning that experience!

E-Commerce coming to brick-and-mortar

Also interesting is the trend of online retailers looking to establish a physical presence, although it may seem counter-intuitive. Even online giant Amazon is trying it out. They have established two different types of kiosks – Lockers and Kindle Kiosks. Using the locker, consumers can browse for products online, place an order and then the item will be delivered to the locker for pick up. At the Kindle kiosks, customers can buy the device for the same price that it’s offered at online. Online bike retailer Big Shot Bikes has also used the kiosk technique by installing them in local bike shops. The kiosk walks the customer through the process of building out their custom bike. They then place the order and the bike is shipped to their local shop where it is assembled. Etsy also tried this approach with pop-up shops this past holiday season in SoHo. Sellers had merchandise available and processed payments via apps. Ebay did the same in London, but they instead offered a virtual catalog instead of physical goods. Along the same lines are shopping walls, which retailers like Net-a-Porter have utilized in big cities. They use QR codes to connect to the online shopping experience.

The fact that we’re seeing this gap being bridged – in both directions – illustrates the importance of an omnichannel approach. Consumers are going to shop and buy in the manner that’s easiest for them and that fits their timing for purchase. That could change day-to-day, by product type or by personal preference at the time. Making sure you’re poised for success across multiple channels – and connecting those channels appropriately – is something that will become increasingly important in today’s ever-changing digital world. You can start off small by launching crossover programs like text-to-join and integrating mobile shopping into your brick-and-mortar store. Have you tried any of these techniques so far or even considered an in-store kiosk? Tell us about it by commenting below.

Anna Pfeiffer
Marketing Strategist at Bronto