Way too many business owners in the Caribbean are ignoring the potential of an online storefront, thinking that their brick-and-mortar location either doesn’t need it, or would be replaced by it. According to A.T. Kearney’s Omnichannel Shopping Preferences Study, “It’s not physical or digital; it’s physical with digital”.

Now that the fear mongering and wild assumptions about online shopping have passed, research shows that those who have the right balance of etail and retail close the most sales.

Recently, retail expert Francesca Nicasio published an eBook, “Retail Survival of the Fittest: 7 Ways to Future-Proof Your Retail Store, a practical guide to modern retail success”, that lays out the value that brick-and-mortar establishments offer to consumers and how a strong online presence enhances physical presence to increase profitability. Read it here.

That’s a huge sigh of relief for Caribbean Businesses, for whom a future of solely digital sellers seemed the inevitable end if all the online shopping hysteria were true. Time to put the hysteria aside. Brick-and-mortar is not going to become obsolete, and most people still prefer to experience a product tangibly before parting with their cash.

Don’t celebrate your offline complacency yet though. As Nicasio says, “while offline stores are still very much a part of people’s shopping journey, other channels and devices are also playing important roles in how customers are discovering, researching, and purchasing products”.

Take note of those three important, connected but distinct aspects of shopping – discovering, researching, and purchasing. As a retailer you need to increase your involvement in your potential customers’ process toward purchase (discovery and research), or risk less of the final purchase step happening at your cashier.

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Some Caribbean retailers perceive the task of gaining online presence for their stores as a huge, complicated, time consuming effort (not true, click here), but many also describe a fear of showrooming.

Showrooming is when consumers browse in a physical store then search for a better price online. The situation strikes fear deep into local retailers because they have paid to maintain their building, their staff, and stock, to become part of someone’s else profit.

It’s essential to first see that you certainly can’t avoid showrooming by remaining invisible online, and as it turns out, showrooming happens far less frequently than webrooming. Webrooming is when consumers discover and even research a product online, but don’t convert to paying customer until they have physically experienced the product, or at least witnessed the packaging, at a brick-and-mortar store.

Now you’re thinking, “If webrooming were really happening in the Caribbean, wouldn’t Christmas sales have been better than past years?” The problem is balance.

The clear winners of the retail scene these days are those who have all the options for the individual shopping preferences out there.

Some consumers want to do it all online, some want to do most of it online but pick up and (and possibly return) to a physical store, some want to research everything to shorten the time they spend shopping, but still find it essential to final research offline (try on the pants/gauge the weight of the knife set/feel the sheet thread count) before buying, some want to discover in store but read reviews online before returning to purchase, and on and on, with various combinations of discover, research and purchase involved.

If locals did not choose to buy their tablets, Barbies, Playstations, engagement rings, designer shades, books, socks, and other gifts from your physical store and headed online, it’s partly because you didn’t give them an online option at any stage of the purchase process.

Including the fourth part of the process, which technically happens after the sale is closed. That part is the review, and having that exist electronically for other potential customers to use as part of their discovery or research is important long after that single sale is over. Unicomer Trinidad Ltd has found this to be true. Their Marketing Officer, Kyra Barker recently reported, “Lucky Dollar has not only seen increased footfalls at branches, but has and continues to enjoy improved search engine optimization. Even in the absence of any additional online presence (website nor social media), Lucky Dollar branch specific profiles dominate not only F1RST keyword searches but also rank in the top 10 of Google.com searches”.

Caribbean businesses can take steps now to engage their tech-friendly customer base, leverage their brick-and-mortar assets, and retain business that would otherwise bleed away over time. The experts agree, December 2015 could be the Christmas of no complaining.

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