What to Do to Merge Digital and Physical Storefronts in WordPress

There was a time a few years ago when I was seeing report after report talking about the impending death of physical storefronts. Working in marketing and web development at the time, I wondered if there was something to that. After all, most of our clients wanted websites that could provide just as robust of an offering and support as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Now that we’ve had some time to assess what’s going on, it’s clear that the doom-and-gloom people were spouting was nothing but an unfounded fear. The physical storefront is just as important to the shopping experience today as it was 20 years ago.

Here’s the thing to remember though:

While physical storefronts continue to remain relevant, the experience of shopping in them has changed. And I believe that’s why so many people were spooked. With a new and seemingly faster means of interacting with companies and retailers online, business owners were right to be scared that their traditional business model would become obsolete. For those that refused to enter the digital space and build a website, that likely was their fate.

For everyone who has persevered since the rise of the online business, it’s because they accepted the digital experience not only as an alternative to the physical one, but as a complement to it.

Consider this your reference guide to building WordPress sites for clients with physical storefronts (and not just retail either). I’m going to share some research about the omnichannel experience and then give some pointers on how to use WordPress to merge your clients’ online and physical storefronts.

Physical Storefronts: Why They’re Not Going Anywhere

For clients that don’t have a brick-and-mortar counterpart to the WordPress site they’ve hired you to develop, the following guide won’t be relevant. It’s not your job to sway someone to open a physical location if it doesn’t make sense for their business model (like that of a WordPress developer).

However, for clients that do already have physical storefronts, you’re going to want to pay close attention. Research indicates that both the physical and online presences are essential to the modern day consumer. So, if you have clients wondering why they even need a website or why they can’t just put the same information on their site as is already available in the store, you can use this data to better guide them.

Here is what you need to know:

Physical Storefronts Are Primarily Where Sales Take Place

A National Retail Foundation report showed that brick-and-mortar businesses continue to generate the majority of sales. As Matthew Shay, the President and CEO of the NRF, said:

“Despite the changes in our industry, there is an appeal to seeing and touching merchandise in person and being able to engage with fellow human beings that has yet to go away. Even younger shoppers see the value of the store.”

This is especially common with businesses models that center around selling tangible home goods:

  • 86% do grocery shopping in-store.
  • 65% go to home improvement stores.
  • 64% shop for personal care and beauty products in person.
  • 57% go to the store for home furnishings.

A study conducted by Salesforce and SapientRazorfish found similar findings, although the focus was on the average global shopping experience.

Physical Storefronts - Preferred Shopping Channel
Research shows that consumers prefer shopping in person over online.

The results of that report revealed that the majority of consumers prefers to buy in-store.

Digital Storefronts Are Primarily Where the Experience Begins

Although more people finish their shopping experience in person, there is a growing majority of users who actually begin the buyer’s journey online.

Physical Storefronts - Begin Shopping Experience
Consumers prefer to begin their buyer’s journey online.

According to the Salesforce report, about 60% of people use the web to begin their shopping experience. This is an important point to keep in mind, especially when pitching website strategies and designs to your client. The website is the first impression their brand is going to leave on a prospective customer and I don’t think they’d want to lose 60% of potential sales because the home page opened too slowly or the copy was ridden with errors.

It’s in Between Where Physical and Digital Merge

The NRF survey reported on industries where physical and digital storefronts are merging to become a truly omnichannel experience. The following consumers use a combination of both experiences to round out their buyer’s journey:

  • 38%: clothing
  • 39%: electronics
  • 36%: books, music, and games

It’s easy to see how this would work what with mobile becoming the primary device for many users nowadays. According to the Salesforce survey, 59% of consumers reported using their smartphones while shopping in store just within the last month. And they did so in order to do price comparisons, research products, and look for coupons.

What You Can Do to Merge Online and Physical Storefronts

If you understand how and why consumers use websites, and how they want that digital experience to complement the physical one, you can more effectively design converting websites for your clients (even if those conversions take place in person). This means you shouldn’t be treating the website as a separate sales funnel; instead, it should become a channel that seamlessly blends with and feeds into the physical storefront.

When developing WordPress sites for clients that have a physical storefront or office, there are a number of things you can do to seamlessly merge the two faces of the brand:

1. Make It Responsive

Over half of consumers are using smartphones while shopping in-store, which means a responsive design is critical. Not only that, the entire experience should be built around this mobile-first concept. In other words, be responsible about how you use pop-ups, present the most important information above the fold, and so on.

2. Include All the Essentials on Product and Service Pages

Even if visitors decide to make a purchase in person, a well-designed and informative product or service landing page can be incredibly helpful in their decision-making process. Think about it like this:

It’s only been within the last few years that consumers could do product research, compare pricing, and read customer testimonials while in the midst of an in-person shopping experience. Before that, they really had to anticipate what they would be looking for. They could use websites to conduct research ahead of time on a product or service, but the in-store experience could throw a curveball and leave them having to make a risky choice on the fly:

Do I gamble on this product that I know barely nothing about, but that the salesperson assures me is a best seller?

Or do I make note of it, return home to do more research, and then buy it online if the customer reviews look good?

Customers no longer have to make that call as your product pages will include all the details they’d ever need to make a well-informed decision. Like REI does very well:

Physical Storefronts - REI Product Page
A very nice example of a product page with details to convince any customer to buy in store or online.

And if they’re feeling mistrustful of a salesperson, user-generated content and other trust marks included on the page will put those fears aside.

3. Offer Alternatives to Shipping

Online shipping of goods is kind of a pain when you think about it.

For your clients, they have to deal with preparing shipments, mailing them out, and handling the bulk of the costs (which can be even more costly if customers have a propensity to return orders often). For their customers, they usually have to choose between free shipping and waiting a long time to get their purchase (which, in the age of Amazon’s free two-day shipping, can seem obscene) or pay a premium and get it shipped faster.

An alternative option is available to businesses with a physical storefront. By adding a “pick up in store” option at checkout, your clients can capture more sales they may possibly have lost from impatient or thrifty customers.

Woodcraft is a local store that sells woodworking hardware and other products. What I like about its website is that it paints a very attractive offer for shipping while, at the same time, letting customers eager to get home repairs done now to pick up their items in store:

Physical Storefronts - Ship or Buy In Store
Both are appealing options. Just depends on the customer’s timeline.

And if you want to get creative with it, you could rebrand it as a “skip the line” feature that further increases the convenience of shopping with your client’s brand.

Physical Storefronts - Pick Up in Store
As you can see, many customers enjoy the convenience of shopping online and picking up in store.

According to Stacey Renfro, the Senior Vice President of eCommerce for Pier 1 Imports, a quarter of their customers use this option to buy online and then pick up in-store. Think about what 25% more sales would do for your clients’ businesses (and the money they’re willing to spend with you in the future).

4. Add Coupons to the Site

One of the reasons consumers gave for using mobile devices while shopping in-store was to look for coupons. While you may already be accustomed to advertising discounts in pop-ups and hello bars on your clients’ WordPress sites, you should now think about adding coupons or QR codes they can redeem in-store. These kinds of discount offers aren’t just good for increasing sales and driving loyalty, but they give customers a reason to regularly check back in with the website.

You can also use this opportunity to increase newsletter signups. Snyder’s Candy does this very thing with an entry popup:

Physical Storefronts - Snyder's Candy Coupons
Snyder’s Candy doesn’t make any secret of its coupons.

Inform visitors that if they want to receive more coupons and get first access to special in-store promotions, they can sign up online. It’ll keep them well-connected to the brand both physically and digitally.

5. Equip Your Site with SMS Notifications

For customers used to interacting with a brand online, SMS notifications might seem unnecessary and intrusive simply because there are other ways to reach them (e.g. email, push notifications, etc.)

But with customers used to interacting with a brand in-person, SMS messages would actually make a lot of sense. You’re not asking them to check their email or be connected to the web in order to receive timely updates or reminders. Instead, you send it straight to their text messaging platform which they can access anywhere, anytime.

The added convenience and personalized delivery system can help your clients grab more sales, especially if they use these notifications to remind customers about abandoned shopping carts or sales on items they viewed online recently.

6. Offer a Limited Selection Online

Something I’ve seen quite a bit of as a consumer and didn’t quite understand until recently was the limited selections offered from some websites. They’ll show you 20 different colors of a shirt you could buy, but only 12 of them are available online. The rest you can find at your local store–at which point the site displays a store locator widget, so you can find one that has the item in stock.

It’s a smart move as it compels customers to go to the store where inventory is much more robust. In turn, this can lead to higher sales as they’re exposed to upsell and cross-sell items they might not have otherwise encountered.

7. Advertise In-Store Events

The Salesforce report referenced above found that 26% of consumers attend in-store events. In addition, 58% of those consumers said those events made them more interested in buying from the business going forward.

So, if you have a client who offers those sort of in-store events, you’d do well to create a dedicated spot on the WordPress site to advertise them.

I believe this would be especially potent around the holidays. You could advertise typical holiday sales, but then put a spotlight on extra discounts or try-it-before-you-buy-it events if they visit the storefront on a given day. This would be useful for your clients since they could better plan staffing and resources for days when they know there’ll be higher volumes of traffic.

8. Accept Reservations and Appointments

Think about a brand like Apple who has an entire store not only committed to selling its products, but also providing support. You can schedule appointments online to meet with one of their tech guys and avoid the inevitable crowd altogether.

Physical Storefronts - Apple Support
Apple is well-known for its online and in-store support options.

Restaurants, law firms, car dealerships, spas, doctor’s offices–many service-based businesses should be taking advantage of this convergence of “storefronts”. In doing so, they’ll cut down on the amount of work they have to do to handle appointment, reservation, consultation, or support requests. They can also use online intake forms to reduce the amount of time customers spend in-house with them while also being better prepared for those interactions.

The Salt Cove is a local halotherapy spa. In addition to allowing me to book a general spa appointment:

Physical Storefronts - The Salt Cove Appointment
The Salt Cove makes it easy to make an appointment without having to pick up the phone.

I can also schedule time to take a class or attend an event:

Physical Storefronts - The Salt Cove Classes
The Salt Cove diversifies its services and offers classes, too.

By giving customers these kinds of choices, your clients can save money on hiring:

  • Multiple assistants to handle phone call after phone call.
  • Dedicated tech support people to monitor phone calls, emails, and live chat 24/7.
  • Hosts to manually input reservations into a POS system.

Of course, support personnel will always be necessary as some people prefer to speak to someone virtually or to walk into a business’s premises unannounced. But by making this connection between the WordPress site and the physical storefront, you can take some of the pressure off of your clients. That way, they don’t always have to be on the defensive; they can actually prepare for what each day brings.

Wrapping Up

Rather than view commerce as a physical vs. digital battle, we should be looking at this as an omnichannel experience. Customers don’t need to choose anymore. And businesses no longer have to lose sales as a result of not being in the right place at the right time. Thanks to WordPress and mobile devices, it’s easier now more than ever to do this.

Suzanne Scacca
Have you ever used your own WordPress site to increase in-person appointments, consultations, or networking opportunities with clients and prospects?