One of the reasons that businesses that are based on face-to-face transactions, such as retail, are struggling is because they see the world from an all-in face-to-face transaction process or a completely digital sales process, when in fact they should be aiming to be hybrid in how they deal with new generations of customer.

Colin Kennedy, CEO of social selling content agency Iron Road, says millennials and Gen Z consumers are so digitally connected that they struggle with interpersonal communication, but this doesn’t mean they don’t want it — they just need a little help.

“Retailers are a good example of business models that will have a bricks-and-mortar store where sales assistants sell face-to-face, and or an online shop where everything is digital but, what if you had a mix of both in a way that makes new generations of shoppers comfortable without losing the interpersonal element?

“It doesn’t have to be ‘either-or’; it can be both. For example, businesses – particularly your small mom-and-pop retailers – might consider engaging shoppers online to bring them in-store.”

Kennedy says that bringing customers in-store may seem superfluous if you’ve already engaged the customer, but not so if you want to build loyalty with that customer.

“Businesses complain that customers aren’t loyal anymore, but that’s because it’s a struggle to get them into the store and those that we do get to walk-in we let go without any attempts to build a loyal relationship.”
A study by the Cancer Research UK reveals that 44 per cent of 18-24-year-olds are more comfortable engaging new people through social media and other apps over person-to-person interactions. In the United States, according to a survey by Bank of America, 39 per cent of millennial said they interact more with their phones than other people.

“So, make it easy for them,” says Kennedy. “Engage millennials and Gen Z online to help them get over that socially awkward first-meeting, and then attract them into the store. Once they come into the store, put time and effort into building loyalty through relationship.”Kennedy offers the following tips on building a hybrid business

1. Use the same staff to engage online, and close offline“Use your sales staff – the people working in the store – to engage your customers online or through social media. Educate, inform, answer their questions; have a conversation. Build relationships online, and then your staff can personally invite the people that they engage with to come into the store – make it worth the customer’s while, with discounts and special offers, to come into the store.

“It will be easier to get them into a face-to-face relationship with staff who are working in the store once you’ve ‘broken the ice’ online.”

2. Create a great customer experience in-storeKennedy suggests making it cheaper to buy in-store instead of online. “People buy online because it’s convenient, but also because they think it’s cheaper and it usually is; so turn that round.

“Offer incentives and special promotions. Point-of-sale software companies like Vend do a great job when it comes to customer management and loyalty software designed to keep your customers coming back.”

3. Staff loyalty begets customer loyalty“Make a point of hiring gregarious, friendly young people who are also at home online and offline, and pay them well. Your people will build valuable relationships and they will also maintain those customer relationships, but only if you in turn build strong relationships with your staff.

“It is just as important to motivate your people. For example, offer special incentives for staff who achieve repeat sales from loyal customers, for example, a loyalty building commission, or something similar.”

Humans, young and old, still need that human touch, says Kennedy.
“We are fundamentally wired to be social and this instinct to be with other people remains the ‘bricks-and-mortar’ store’s most important and valuable point-of-difference – they just have to become better at it.”