In the past, most traditional retailers went in one of two directions with their Web site -- either they became a full-blown e-retailer selling directly online, or they used their site as a brochure for the store with a few photos, contact information and driving directions. However, after the last holiday season when traditional stores had so-so sales compared to double-digit sales growth for many e-retailers, many store marketers are now seriously investigating how they can use Web traffic to drive retail foot traffic.
We interviewed integrated marketing expert Bill Gadless, President eMagine, to get practical advice for retailers. He told us the biggest mistake many retailers make is to invest in a site without an objective that makes sense online. "Some retailers say, 'Let’s build a site and have this pretty thing with all our products, even though we're not selling them online at the moment.' Pretty and nice will not drive revenue all on its own. You need a proper plan to drive more store foot traffic." Your plan should include five steps:
Step #1: Profile your target audience
First you need to clearly define which slice of the gigantic online audience is most likely to be valuable foot traffic for your retail store. Aside from the obvious geographic target, you also need demographic information on the age, gender, income-level, and buying preferences of the most profitable slice of your store's current foot traffic.
Gadless recommends you use statistics gathered from the POS system currently in place at your store (or consider investing in POS data collection immediately). He warns that you need statistics generated by a true customer database, "Sometimes our eyes don't necessarily agree with statistics. You can take a survey of salespeople in the store and compare it against real data and find they're two completely separate things."
Step #2: Drive your current store foot traffic to your Web site
Shoppers who have already taken the trouble to seek out your store in "real life," are the best people to drive to your Web site initially, because you can use the Internet as a very low-cost method of getting them to return to your store time and time again.
Therefore Gadless strongly urges every retailer to implement campaigns that either (a) gather store shopper's email addresses with permission to email them and/or (b) entice your shoppers to go to your site of their own accord and enter their email addresses in your permission list.
In-store email collection activities can include a box to collect business cards, or sign-up forms at the cash register. You can also include a reply card in every shopping bag reminding shoppers to go to your site and sign up. If you already have collected a direct mail database of shoppers and prospects for postal mail campaigns, Gadless recommends sending a post card to this list asking that they go to your Web site to sign up.
No matter what, you will need to have a special incentive for these customers -- perhaps a sweepstakes, a free useful booklet, a percent discount coupon for their next purchase; whatever would really make your most profitable customers act. Gadless says, "It's a mistake to assume that without offering something of value to people, that they'll give something of value -- permission to email them -- to you. Bribe them with something that appeals to greed." The phrase, "Visit our Web site at…" will not do on its own.
Step #3: Make gathering visitor emails your site's top priority
Gadless explains, "Your site's number one objective should be capturing strategic data such as emails." That's because driving store traffic from your site is a two-step process.
Yes, a few visitors will use your site as a Yellow Pages, looking for your address and then visiting you offline. However, the majority will use your site to evaluate if they should shop with you, to check if you have any specials, etc. Most of the time they will never visit your site again. Your primary goal should be to gather their emails with permission so you can continue to contact them in future, and build a relationship that drives then to your store again and again.
So, make sure your Web site's design and focus reflects the fact that you want to collect that email permission. Feature a large special offer on the most prominent part of your home page (the upper middle section where visitors eyes go first), and also make sure every single other page of your site includes at least a prominent link to the offer as well.
Step #4: Communicate with your email list regularly
Next, put a plan into place to use that opt-in email list to drive foot traffic to the store on a regular basis. You do not want to email opt-ins so often that they are annoyed, or so infrequently that they forget they gave permission to you. Monthly frequency is your best bet to start with, if you've never done email before.
Topics for your emails can be sales, new arrivals, discounts, special coupons, etc.
Gadless recommends that, "Your emails should be quick and to the point, equal to one page of HTML with a minimum of scrolling." Yes you can include coupons in the email itself, or ask customers to click through to pick up a coupon at your site. Retailers with more sophisticated databases may wish to split their email communications out depending on various data points such as zip code or buying preferences, so customers get offers most likely to appeal to them. The more personalized a communication is, in general the more successful it is.
Remember to include your store address, phone number, and hours in every email communication, so shoppers who print out your email for future reference have everything they need to visit the store without going online again.
Step #5: Track campaign response
If you are sending HTML email (email with graphics), you should be able to track the open rate (the number of people who opened and read your email). With either HTML or text email, you should be able to track click-throughs. Gadless also recommends measuring how much foot traffic each campaign brings you.
He explains, "You can't measure how many people are walking into a store just based on them having some interest in your site. The only way to track is by having them bring something into the store, such as a coupon, with them." He recommends you invest in technology that integrates your POS data-gathering system with online coupons. "A coupon emailed to a customer can include a bar code that integrates with your POS system. Or you can enter a code manually."
In future, you'll also want to track how many of those Web-driven customers return to the store again and again, whether or not they bring a coupon. Gadless says, "Once you've analyzed customer lifetime value, you can really start looking at what ROI is."