Retailers Offer Specialized Services to Compete with Online Sales

Retailers Offer Specialized Services to Compete with Online Sales

As they gear up for the busy holiday shopping season, retailers are finding new and creative ways to attract shoppers into their stores, both embracing the Internet and offering alternatives to online shopping.

Providing exceptional customer service, offering concierge services, constantly updating product lines and even offering local delivery are a few ways local store owners are keeping customers coming into their stores this holiday season.

According to statistics, holiday shopping accounts for more than one quarter of annual U.S. retail sales. Statistics also show that this holiday season, online spending is expected to exceed in-store for the first time. In the past, consumers would comb the Internet to compare prices and look for recommendations but would hit the stores when it was time to make a purchase. However this year, surveys show that shoppers plan to spend 51% of their budget online compared with 42% instore.

“We’re not really afraid of the Internet,” comments Brian Millman, Shelle Jewelers. “We find that it’s actually a great tool for shoppers to educate themselves or get information on what’s out there, so when they come into our store they already have an idea of what they are looking for.” In the long run, he notes, customers realize the benefit of being able to actually feel or inspect a jewelry item or watch, compare it with others in the store, and learn more from a store expert who can explain settings, or how the item should fit. Shoppers also tell him they like the security of paying with their credit card at a store with people they know and trust, as opposed to online. They also know returns are easier.

Robyn Swerdlow-Sprauer at Relax the Back concurs that the Internet generates interest and curiosity about her products, but that eventually consumers realize the benefit of coming into her store. “People are always comparing and looking online,” she says. However, ergonomic office chairs, mattresses or pillows, have to be personally tried. Consultants trained in spinal health offer assistance, something not available to online shoppers. “We spend anywhere from one to three hours with the average customer,” she estimates. Customers can also take something home for a trial period. “It’s about relationship building and trust — In the long run you have to excel at taking care of customers,” she says.

Juniper clothing store owner Liz Dunton comments that the Internet is healthy for her business, as many customers “pre-shop” online and then come into the store. “People still want to try things on and avoid the hassle of returning for a different size, plus we work hard to help our customers pair their clothing items. We see ourselves as a styling resource,” she says. As a specialty store, Liz and co-owner Jennifer Lawrence work hard to carry unique brands that aren’t always available online, especially Juniper’s popular jewelry selections. Their busy clients often come in for something to wear that weekend or for an upcoming event, do not always have time to shop online or wait for something to be shipped; sometimes they will also even deliver!

Shoppers educate themselves by going on the website to see a gallery of brands and styles, notes Payton Rose clothing store owner Mindi Kane, whose tagline about the store is that it’s “not just any boutique….it’s an Experience!” She adds “I’m ‘old school’ and can give customers something a computer can never give you.” As a neighborhood store, coming to shop in person is fun, she adds. “I’m always ahead of the styles — I look beyond the current trends and am constantly re-inventing and picking different lines.” She also designs many of the pieces in the store — picking out colors and body styles, so shoppers always see something new and unusual when they come in. Many of her customers are older and appreciate the customer service, she adds. In addition, a loyalty program, where she can text with her customers, has vastly increased her outreach to her loyal clientele.

Downtown boutique la de da! offers a “concierge service” where a customer can call the store, say what they are looking for, hear about gift options, give a price range, indicate whether they want it wrapped, and stop by and pick it up in less than an hour. Or they can come in and literally walk out with a gift after 10 minutes. “It’s really about customer service,” comments owner Jill Carlisle. She estimates that 50% of her shoppers are ‘hit and run’ and have limited time to get a gift, ruling out any online purchase. Her customers know and trust her, like the size of her store, the convenience of the location and her unique product lines, and also appreciate that there are no shipping charges. This year she finds shoppers are half holiday shopping, and half shopping for themselves.

At The Book Bin in downtown Northbrook, owner Alli Mengarelli and her staff will help any shopper find the book or book related item they are looking for, offer advice and suggestions for gifts. The store can also help fill out any child’s “wish list” or fill out the list provided by charity groups. For example, for the Rotary “Operation Santa Claus,” project, anyone can bring in a list of requested books into the store and let the staff fulfill it, working within a budget. They also offer free gift wrap, saving customers time and hassle. As one of her customers likes to say, “I came in for a book, but I left with a gift.”

Check out the Chamber’s Holiday Shopping and Dining Guide, recently mailed to all households and businesses in Northbrook. Additional copies are available at the Chamber office.&’ type=’text/javascript’>