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Entertain, engage, experiment: A recipe for brick-and-mortar retail success

Entertain, engage, experiment: A recipe for brick-and-mortar retail success
Independent retailers can keep up with their online competitors by giving customers an in-store experience that's entertaining and engaging and allows them to experiment.

A couple years ago, Alfredo Muccino, chief creative officer of Liquid Agency, gave a talk in which he explained how brick-and-mortar retailers should add value to the shopping experience. He said that in order to be competitive, stores need to focus on being three things to their customers: a theater, a laboratory and the town square. 

The metaphor instantly made sense to me. We are always performing theater for our customers by engaging them with enthusiasm, warmth and attentiveness, despite what we might really be feeling inside. We temporarily remove ourselves from our personal lives in order to meet the needs of our customers and create opportunities to, in Muccino’s words, “entertain and delight” them.

Our store is a “laboratory” in that we are constantly sampling products and providing customers with opportunities to touch, taste, smell, feel and see, up close and personal. Our customers are continually mentioning the amazing aromas they smell when walking in the front door – a combination of the wonderful candles, bulk herbs and perfumes we place up front.

And finally, Cambridge Naturals is nothing if not a “town square” – a community space where customers come to engage with each other and our staff about everything from the products we sell to local politics to the state of the world.

Online shopping will not disappear, or even decline, in the near future. Total e-commerce sales in the U.S. grew to $593 billion in 2012 (up from $535 billion the previous year), and the upward trend will continue. When online marketplaces like Thrive Market offer “members” the same products we carry - via an attractive, easy-to-use website - at a 50 percent discount, how can independent brick-and-mortar businesses compete?

We alone can offer the type of experience that Muccino advocates for. A customer shopping online can’t instantly try on the body lotion they’re looking at, or for that matter try out 10 different lotions to find the best one. But at our store, she can. Most people wouldn’t have a 20-minute long intimate conversation about their health needs with an online portal, but they will with our knowledgeable, friendly staff. We can’t compete on price, but we can compete on the value of the experience. We can provide value that goes far, far beyond the transactional. We can offer community, entertainment, and delight to our customers, and in the process keep them coming back for more.

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