Marketing is always changing, and that is no different in 2018. Businesses are facing a unique challenge: if you combine the convenience of the mobile experience with the personalization of the in-store experience—and do it in a meaningful way—then customer loyalty will follow. Businesses that can take on this challenge, creatively advertise to shoppers, and re-imagine the in-store experience are poised to benefit the most this upcoming year.

Why the in-store experience matters

We get it, Amazon is convenient. Shopping from your couch in your pajamas has its perks. When you know exactly what you want—brand, color, and size—and you want it delivered to your front door, e-commerce is the way to go. Online is great for toilet paper and textbooks, but it’s terrible for a coffee date, trying on clothes with friends, or having a night out. The bottom line is that people will always want to touch, see, and try on products before purchase, and they will want to be part of a brand-loyal community while doing so.

People may be shopping less overall, but when they shop at brick-and-mortar stores now, it’s about the experience. When so much of the day-to-day shopping can be done online, in-store shopping can become an opportunity to escape, connect, or to find a community. Certain brands are superb at offering the community experience. Whole Foods Market and other stores offer community education classes, cooking classes, samples, and engage with customers on social media. Local breweries and wineries often offer tastings, pairing classes, and even yoga for customers.

When businesses can double as a place for a community experience, shoppers—especially Millennial shoppers—are sold. 68% of Millennial shoppers prefer to complete their transactions in-store. They desire a connection to the world and the brands around them and expect to be part of a community of shoppers instead of mindless consumers. When retailers can tap into that desire for experience, they can expect an increase in sales and a greater sense of brand loyalty.

When brands go viral

Soap company Dove has pushed several “Real Beauty” campaigns over the past decade, leading the way for companies to mix marketing with a message. Although some of their efforts have fallen flat, many have gone viral and helped spur the body positivity movement. And the message comes with a boost to sales. The brand director at Dove’s parent company, Unilever, reported, “We believe that conversation leads to brand love, and brand love leads to brand loyalty…that’s obviously a positive for us not just in the power of the brand, but also ultimately in sales.”

Part of the appeal of social media is the ability for brands to connect with their consumers. Rather than fast-forwarding through all commercials, nowadays we search for entertaining ads on YouTube and even recommend them to friends. Consumers have flipped the tables and are searching for ways to connect to the products they use. As consumers, we follow our favorite brands on social media, we share their ads, and we often come to their defense when they are criticized.

Due to consumers increasingly accessing social media, reviews, and product comparisons online, brands have more competition, but they also have a huge opportunity to relate to the consumer. With the ability to inform, educate, connect, and persuade shoppers, retailers have many ways to reach the invested consumer looking to connect. And small local businesses have the greatest opportunity to edge out their bigger counterparts and focus in on local clientele. For local businesses, bigger brands can find it difficult to compete with a hometown, personalized, know-your-name experience. The key is getting customers in the door.

Tapping in before they tap away

We know customers are researching, Googling, comparing, and Snapping before, during, and after their shopping experiences. So the key is to draw them in, create community, encourage social sharing, and lure them back when it’s all done—and local marketing is the way to do that.

Customers are searching for what they want, from where they are. While out for brunch, they can locate the nearest boutique store for shopping afterward. Running work errands? Great, where can I meet a friend and grab a coffee on my lunch break? Cashing in on that micro-moment means being first on the Google Local search. It means great pictures, an up-to-date results page, and excellent reviews.

When they arrive at the store, customers can be retained with the right mix of in-store charm and digital information. Offer location-based, in-store promos. Keep customers browsing the aisles searching for push promos like they searched for Pokemon last year. Have well-informed and friendly staff equipped with iPads and smartphones to answer in-depth questions about products and services.  

Create a sense of community by offering classes, tutorials, and meet-ups. Offer further resources and tutorials online via social media and YouTube. There are endless ways to engage the community-driven customer in order to increase traffic, social interaction, and improve brand loyalty.

This year’s customers are unique. They like convenience, information, research, and reviews. But they also seek community, connection, and purpose when shopping. They do more research, know more about product origins, and care about the people behind the brands. They search for an experience. But they’re searching from their mobile devices, at any time and from anywhere. Businesses have a new opportunity to attract and retain these potentially very loyal customers—but businesses need to be in the right place at the right time, with the right Google rankings, and push the right promos to attract them.

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