By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding
Walk-in shopping traffic has surely changed over the last few decades. Back in the day when king mattresses sold for $99 and 19-inch color TVs went for $500, retail stores served as a place where shoppers would come to browse, just to see what was new.
These “lookers” were a combination of people passing the time of day and others dreaming of owning something new. Sales associates, known then as salesmen, would greet those shoppers knowing there was very little chance of closing the sale. We sure were busy, but sales conversion rates hovered in the low 20 percent range back then.
As the decades rolled on the combination of fewer unique places to shop, more national chains, less perceived free time, and easier access to product information contributed to a drop in store traffic. More people shopped only when they were on a mission to buy, and less people shopped just for fun. Ironically, a natural outcome from the falloff in traffic was an increase of conversion rates. While we are not necessarily better salespeople, our shoppers are better buyers.
As the pandemic recedes you should be prepared for a drop in your store walk-in traffic count. Over the last couple of months many retailers whose sales floors have been open or accessible by appointment only reported a near 90 percent close rate. Shoppers only came in when they were ready to spend.
And while fewer people are going out to shop, more people are shopping while staying in. Online browsing, shopping and buying have exploded during our COVID experience. Work at home, school at home, and stay at home has given most of us all that leisure time we had long hoped for (and are now ready to give up!). It’s not just the big guys like Amazon, Wayfair and Walmart that have seen online visits increase. It’s also the savvy local businesses, large and small, that have traded foot traffic for web traffic.
My prediction: That’s not going to change for the rest of the year.
More businesses are finding out that people can work at home and be productive. One major insurance company (I can’t mention the name, but they do business nationwide) plans to exit most office buildings by November and transition its employees to home-based status.
In fact, 74 percent of large companies with office workers plan to offer or insist that some portion of their staff work from home.
Similarly, plans for summer leisure travel are being altered and cancelled, meaning there will be fewer vacations and more staycations. Restaurants, sports venues and movie theaters will be some of the last businesses to reopen.
The net result is more time at home and more time on the keyboard, meaning more virtual shopping activity.
For many years I have been urging retailers that the World Wide Interwebby Net Thing is not going away. Brick-and-mortar is not going away either, but chances are the first step potential buyers will take into your business will be through your online store before visiting your physical store. Businesses with the most attractive online storefronts will get the most visits, and shoppers will continue to pass over dirty window or empty window websites.
A word on closing the sale: You probably would never hire a salesperson who refused to ask a customer to buy. And if you made that hiring mistake, you’d fire that person on day one, because every shopper is valuable and has a cost attached to getting them into your store. Having a website that is not e-commerce friendly is the same as having a non-closing salesperson — you simply can’t afford to pay a salesperson for being a tour guide or have a website that’s a non-transactional catalog.
A final word on Internet shopping: Having a site is just like having a storefront. You must tell people you a there and are open to serve them. Start with social media like Facebook and Instagram. Prepare a lively video and an impactful offer (yes, we can help with that!) and invest some do-re-mi to drive viewership. The daily cost is less than a couple of frilly salted pecan crème lattes at McCoffee or Fivebucks.
Yes, America is reopening, but the rules in the playbook have changed. There’s plenty of money to be spent by shoppers over the next few months and the businesses with the best-looking stores, sites and offers will win.
Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.