Bricks and mortar shops missing online sales

Last weekend, I did some online research prior to what I thought would be a purchase of a slightly wider stand-up desk. As I’ve now got 2 monitors, my trusted little one was not quite wide enough.

So, as per a typical consumer, I looked at a variety of shops online, found the product I wanted, printed out the webpage and headed on down to buy it from the chosen store.

In-store issues

The store was quite full. As usual, it was difficult to find someone to help me – such as tell me where the stand up desks were packed up. I could see a few on display, but not many available.

One person I spoke to was very young. They promptly took off around an aisle muttering something and disappeared into a back office. So I walked around and around and still couldn’t find the one I wanted.

Almost giving up, I asked someone stacking shelves if they could help, showing them my print out. They scanned the code, looked up the stock on a hand held device and announced:

“I’m afraid we’re all out of them; you could try some other stores if you like, or go and buy it online?”

At that, they turned back to their shelf-stacking, leaving me to slowly exit the store.

Having spent time researching and deciding on my intended purchase, then printing out the exact one I wanted and having driven to the shop, I was – in the vernacular – a ‘warmed up prospect’.

I was ready to buy. I was OK with the price, the colour, the dimensions. I would have bought right there and then. The sale was assured and as good as in the bank.

And yet… after leaving the store, my mood cooled. Partly due the fact that I’d invested otherwise free time looking for something they did not have (although the website did not say they were out of stock; on other items, it clearly showed they were out, but not this one) and driving to the store, wandering around it, and then returning empty handed.

I’d found it difficult to get help to effect the purchase, while in the store. One assistant just walked off, the other pretty much told me to go away and buy online.

After a while, I thought – you know, the stand up desk I have is OK; perhaps I’ll stick with that and make it work? A week on, I’m no longer interested in buying a new stand up desk at all.

A sale has been lost.

How many more does this company lose in a like-minded fashion?

Let’s replay that again…

So let’s run the play again.

I’m on the website, and the back-end database is linked up to the actual stock – in real time – for my local store, telling me whether they have them or not.

In fact, it goes further, it tells me how many they have, and the likelihood of there being one if I go to the store in the next few hours. It offers me free shipping if I buy now, online, and let’s me know when it will arrive. It also offers me the chance to pop to the store now, saving the stock with my name on it, for a few hours, to give me time.

Purchase saved. The well-designed website has completed a sale with no human interaction from the company. Just lines of code.

Even if the store did not do that, the actions of the staff in the store could have been different. Failing to find the stock, they could have offered to sit me down on a computer and make my purchase right there and then.

“We’re sorry the stock is not here at the moment, sir, but would you like me to help you buy it online right now? I can offer you free shipping, and I can see here that it should be at your door on Thursday – would that be alright?

“You’ve taken the trouble to come down here and rather than have you run over town to our other stores, we can organise that right now. And you won’t need to queue at the checkout either.”

Do you think I’d have taken that option? You betcha.

Either way, the sale would have been made.

We’ve seen the stats of how retail stores have struggled for years, due to the rise of internet shopping, and now a pandemic that has forced shoppers online. Poor bricks and mortar stores, how can they cope?

Online shopping and physical store shopping need not compete; they can be complimentary.

People aren’t going to stop shopping, they are just changing their behaviours. Why not tap into this, and help them buy from you? Why send them away (almost treating your walk in customers a pest to be dealt with) to then go cold on the purchase?


Photo by Karolina Grabowska.

About the author

20+ years in Perth’s business, tech, media and startup sectors, from founder through to exit, as CEO, mentor, advisor / investor, and in federal and state government. Originally an economics teacher from the UK, working in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999, Charlie co-founded, running it for 10+ years before selling to REIWA, to run In 2013, moved to Business News, became CEO, then worked on the Australian government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program. In 2021, helped set up and launch The Property Tribune, and was awarded the Pearcey WA Entrepreneur of the Year (at the 30th Incite Awards). In 2022, he became Director Innovation, running the 'New Industries Fund' at the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI).

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