5 online lessons taken from the traditional bricks and mortar store

The ways in which we communicate has gone through massive changed over the past 20 – 30 years with advent of internet related mediums and mobile technology. It is a "given" that theses advancements have allowed us to communicate in a more personal and often dynamic way.

I do, however, think that it is refreshing to look at what, through this barrage of change and technology, has remained core when it comes to communicating with our customers. I think by looking at some of these “home truths” we can begin to build a solid foundation for how we approach our activities for both online and in-store.

Today I would like to take a moment to look at what fundamental operational aspects of any retail brick and mortar store still ring true for the e-commerce arena as we begin to try and take the fight online.

Help Your Visitors Find Their Way Around Your Store

You’ll notice in most supermarkets and big department stores, that there’s typically a system in place to help shoppers easily find their way around. It usually comes in the form of big bold signs at the end of every aisle categorizing like products and displaying what you can find in each aisle.

You’ll also usually see stores divided into sections so that shoppers know in which direction to go to find those items.

In a supermarket you might find Deli, Bakery and Produce sections. In a department store you might find Clothing, Home Décor and Garden sections. This makes it really clear from a distance in which direction shoppers should head in order to find what they are looking for.

You’ll also usually notice that the checkout area is typically at the front of the store closely accompanied by a Customer Service section.

Much like the navigation in stores, your online visitors are looking for a standard system to find their way around. This comes in the form of your navigation bar.

Your navigation menu bar is the central hub to helping your shoppers find their way around. Use it wisely and make it clear. Make sure that you include buttons that shoppers actually want in order to find what they are most looking for. Also, clearly display sub categories of the products you are offering in a way that is intuitive.

Make sure that your checkout system is easy to use and that your shoppers can easily find their way back to their carts as well as support or customer service if necessary.

Help should always be on hand

As mentioned above, most stores place their Customer Service department in close proximity to their checkout area. When your visitors are right at that point of purchase, make sure that there is plenty of help nearby.

Have you ever shopped in a store where you couldn’t find someone to help? How frustrated did you become? Maybe you even left the store (like me).

In the best stores, you’ll notice that there are sales associates walking around looking to assist people. And in the really good stores those sales associates are wearing really bright shirts or vests so that you can’t miss them. (Think big, bold bright call to action buttons or chat panels)

To let you visitors immediately know that there is help available to them, include a Help section and a FAQ page. Also, make sure it’s ridiculously easy to contact you. Include a phone number at the upper right hand corner. Include a Contact button in your main navigation bar.

Reach Them At Home

If you’re receiving marketing material at home from your local JB Hifi and grocery stores, it’s because they know they this is still a very effective medium to lure you back into their stores.

You should be doing the same with a free newsletter sign up or engaging them on social media so that you can stay top of mind in your visitor shopping journey. Have a look at our article on reciprocity for an example of a way to engage your audience. 

Remember, email remains as the 2nd most effective way to bring in traffic after SEO and pay-per-click.

Make It Easy To Checkout

If your checkout system creates friction, you’re sure to lose a few shoppers, if not many.

Now, you can’t make it as easy as having checkout staff scanning the products and doing the work for you. But you can optimize the process.

Even little things matter in store. You’ll notice that most stores have dividers that you put down to separate your items from the next shopper’s items on the conveyor belt. That’s a little thing. But think of how chaotic it might be without them.

Happy checkout staff are the most effective. They make the experience pleasant and delightful. Not only to get them through the process – but to also make them want to come back. They don’t ask them a million questions. They just want to get through the checkout line. If your checkout person asked for your postcode code, phone number and a picture ID before you were able to complete your transaction – you’d quickly become frustrated. Don’t do the same to your online shoppers.

Catch Them As Their Leaving

You’ll also notice that many stores have a display of miscellaneous items at checkout.It’s because they’re trying to get shoppers to make a last minute impulse purchase as they’re leaving. It also is an opportunity to offer you qualified products based on the products already in your purchase - think about the "2 for 1" offers that are presented when you go to purchase a chocolate bar at the service station.

You can also take advantage of getting your online visitor’s attention as they’re leaving or suggesting “you may also like” items at the cart. These will help increase the cart size of your shoppers while also developing a way to personalize their shopping experience.

Exit-Intent is an effective tool that you can use to offer a last moment incentive to bring abandoning visitors back onboard. On average it will likely lift conversions by 10%. But I’ve seen cases where it increased conversions by 100%.


With all that said, you see that the online sales process is really quite similar to the brick and mortar sales process.

The brick and mortar sales process has been around for decades and survived the pressures of what modern technology has thrown at it. Using these principles and technology together allows the store to grow organically.

So to recap:

  • Make it easy for your shoppers to find their way around.
  • Let them see that there is help along the way.
  • Reach them at home to stay forefront in their minds.
  • Make it easy to checkout.
  • And catch them as they’re leaving.
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