Bridge the online to in-store gap with digital tools: Big lessons from small businesses

Ken Wheaton December 2018 Search, Video, Omnichannel

Even as people increasingly embrace digital technology and do more and more shopping online, brick-and-mortar locations remain the first choice for many. For some, it’s a matter of impatience. They want what they want, and they want it now. For others, they’re just more comfortable making big-ticket purchases in person, even if they do most of their research online.

So it’s crucial that businesses master both the online and offline aspects of the consumer journey, especially as the traditional marketing funnel continues to evolve.

We’ve written about Panera using a combination of mobile and data to make the in-store experience smoother for its customers and how Paragon Honda removes the pain from customer service appointments.

Examples abound across the country for businesses big and small, and they all offer important online to offline marketing lessons.

Bring your real-world magic to your online experience

What if I were to tell you that a general store in the Ozark Mountains was a case study in successful online and offline marketing? We came across Lange General Store in Steelville, Missouri, while creating this year’s Economic Impact Report.

Alicia Rehmert opened the store in 2014, driven primarily by the desire for a better brick-and-mortar retail experience. In her area, “there weren’t a lot of places where you could just interact with people and have a fun experience while shopping,” she said. “And the big-box stores that were around were all pretty generic; there was nothing unique about them.” So she opened Lange General Store, a restoration of a 20th-century general store founded by her husband’s great-grandfather, H.C. Lange. Like its predecessor, Lange General Store is “a literal brick-and-mortar building full of classic toys, nostalgic candy, over a hundred flavors of soda pop in bottles, home decor and linens, and a variety of other old-fashioned goods.”

“It’s how we share some of that old-fashioned service that we give folks who walk through our physical doors.”

Rehmert wanted to grow her business, so she added e-commerce in 2016, and turned to digital advertising and analytics. Ninety-percent of the store’s ad dollars go to digital, with 70% of its online sales coming through Google’s AdWords. Over the past year, Lange General Store has more than doubled its sales and the number of customers. But even digital customers get a touch of real-world customer service. Lange ships each order with a handwritten thank-you note, Tootsie Rolls, and Bit-O-Honey candy. “It’s how we share some of that old-fashioned service that we give folks who walk through our physical doors,” says Rehmert.

Video can boost e-commerce and in-store sales

There are also small retailers who operate e-commerce sites but use digital advertising to drive customers to their retail locations.

“People want to see the making of our products, so we give them that with our YouTube videos.”

When Amanda Dailey and Julie Araujo founded Queork, which sells high-quality cork products ranging from shoes to handbags to dog collars, they started out online, but quickly followed with a retail location in New Orleans’ French Quarter. “We want to get people into our stores,” said Dailey, so they turned to digital advertising to make sure visitors planning a trip to New Orleans also considered a trip to their store. And for a little extra online-offline crossover, YouTube is a favorite tool. “People want to see the making of our products,” Dailey said. “So we give them that with our YouTube videos.”

Fish where the fish are

We also saw numerous travel businesses in the Economic Impact Report relying heavily on digital. It makes sense, especially if you’re in remote locations like Great Alaskan Holidays, an RV rental company in Anchorage. “About 90 percent of our rental customers are from outside Alaska, stretching from the lower 48 to countries on the other side of the world,” said Director of Marketing Bob Johnson.

He estimates that 65% of Great Alaskan’s business comes through its Google ads. The company is also working to combine its online and offline efforts, building outreach ad campaigns on relationships it has cultivated with travel agents, visitor bureaus, and neighboring businesses.

Of course, getting customers through the door is only one step in a longer journey. Once they’re there, the eternal rules of business apply: offer great products and provide great customer service. As these businesses demonstrate, digital tools can be used to make that possible every step of the way.

Small businesses, big impact: 8 lessons from our Economic Impact Report