When One (Brick-and-Mortar) Door Closes, Another (Browser) Window Opens

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Despite the fact that my last first day of school was nearly eight years ago, I still love office supply stores--especially in the fall. I love to gawk at the fresh notebooks and mock the impractical locker decorations when the opportunity strikes. (FYI, no one needs to waste good money on locker chandeliers and shag carpets!) But last year, on my semi-annual pilgrimage to the nearest Office Max, the tradition was shattered by the unexpected closure of this location.
Customer Strategy

Despite the fact that my last first day of school was nearly eight years ago, I still love office supply stores--especially in the fall. I love to gawk at the fresh notebooks and mock the impractical locker decorations when the opportunity strikes. (FYI, no one needs to waste good money on locker chandeliers and shag carpets!) But last year, on my semi-annual pilgrimage to the nearest Office Max, the tradition was shattered by its unexpected closure.Of course, we've all lived through numerous store closures. (I'm still mourning the loss of Borders, for instance.) But when leaders in the retail space, such as Macy's and Wal-Mart, begin to cut their losses, it's easy to see that these preliminary failures can serve as teaching moments on the path to improvement. Big brands must use such cases as opportunities to regroup and refocus their engagement initiatives by paying special attention to those consumers directly impacted by these closures. Unlike Office Max, these brands still have the chance to connect with shoppers, preserve their reputation, and minimize customer churn. (There's no other nearby location, so I've unfortunately severed all ties with Office Max because purchasing office supplies loses something in the translation.)

While closing failing locations may serve as the precursor for inevitable doom to some, retailers must perceive these decisions as warning signs if they hope to recover losses and revive engagement. Leaders must ensure that they have an online action plan to guide consumers who've been inconvenienced. Derek Browers, vice president of product at MomentFeed, emphasizes that retailers must focus on directing customers of these such locations to the Web or, if reasonably close, another location. Retailers must remain transparent to thwart unnecessary damage to their reputation by having potential customers drive over only to find there's no store at all. While navigating this transition certainly isn't foolproof, brands only have one shot to keep their customers happy. Shoppers usually don't have the time to check back repeatedly for an eventual resolution. If retailers aren't right there waiting with an explanation, customers will likely turn to the competition for help.

"Remember that the vast majority of customers of Macy's and Wal-Mart aren't going to be searching online to find them," Bowers adds. "They're already customers, so it's not like they need to look up directions. When they find out the location closed, however, they will often turn online to find out what happened. That's the point where brands need to be proactive in updating the venue description on local listings or status updates on local Facebook Pages to let customers know both what happened and where they can go to buy in the future, whether that's another location or online."

Ultimately, retailers want to curb consumer disappointment and frustration. (Those elements are probably what got them into this mess anyway, at least in part.) If your brand has announced scattered store closures, be sure to provide easy access to this list with advanced notice of each location's closing date. Most brands will lower prices to clear out the remaining stock at these stores, so these sales will draw one final influx of shoppers. Retailers must also be proactive by presenting customers with alternative locations or online incentives to retain their business. It's easy for customers to simply turn to the competition, especially where Web stores are concerned. Closures are meant to reduce spend and increase revenue, but such measures may backfire if consumer loyalty wanes.

But if your brand must eventually file for bankruptcy and close the remainder of its brick-and-mortar locations, don't lose hope! After all, Circuit City seems poised to makes an unexpected comeback this year. Maybe Office Max will also reemerge from its online grave and reclaim its physical location? Yes, I'm asking too much, but Staples just doesn't have the same atmosphere. If nostalgia can rekindle that Circuit City spark, who knows what's next...

If you could bring back one of your favorite brick-and-mortar stores, which one would it be? What did it have that today's stores just can't replicate? Let us know in the comments below!

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION