It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar stores face challenges in a world where purchases of just about everything can be arranged from an Internet-enabled device and delivered within a few days.

Even the greatest draw to pull shoppers into stores — the ability to see and evaluate products in the real world — has been eroded by so-called showrooming, which starts when a potential customer comes in and checks out a big-ticket item. Perhaps they hop on their mobile device to shop competitors for lower priced products while in the store. In some cases, they may place an order with a competitor, right then and there.

Showrooming can be difficult to spot, but the phenomenon remains a threat, especially when it comes to big-ticket items customers may feel nervous about purchasing sight unseen.

Mobility has a lot going for it: Shoppers can quickly compare brands and prices and consult websites that leverage past purchases to predict future needs or make suggestions. They also have an ever-growing field of customer review sites at their disposal. All of that doesn’t mean a real-world retailer can’t compete effectively. With a little work, showrooming can even become a gateway to in-store sales.

It All Comes Down to Clienteling

At its heart, clienteling creates long-term relationships with customers. Sales floor employees — another element of the in-person retail experience that online retailers cannot easily replicate — often prove to be naturals at creating short-term relationships that can lead to sales. But they also have the potential to draw a customer back, over and over again. To do so, sales representatives need to be able to access past purchase data to help create individualized shopping experiences for customers, while also giving them access to the rapid comparisons, pricing information and customer reviews that otherwise make online shopping so convenient.

Typically the solution starts with developing either a mobile or web-based app that customers can access on their mobile devices. A great application will be well-written and useful, pulling in a variety of data streams and creating incentives, such as reward points or free in-store Wi-Fi, that entice customers to use it. (Displaying a prominent sign near a store’s entrance prompting customers to open the app doesn’t hurt!) All of that works together, seamlessly, to enhance the customer experience.

Other elements that make for a popular app — and keep customers coming back to the store — include price matching data and the ability to request in-person assistance, allowing customers to complete orders and arrange for shipping from within the app.

Apps tied to beacon technology can even alert the sales team when a customer walks in the door, offering a shopping experience that no website can replicate. After all, websites are convenient, but shopping online often feels impersonal, no matter how personalized the recommendations. Equipping skilled salespeople with data from a website helps them to effectively compete with the Internet while also bringing the warmth of human interaction to the shopping experience.

Clienteling can sound a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Putting in the work up front to craft the best possible app goes a long way toward minimizing the time required to retrain staff. A well-integrated, intuitive app will quickly become a useful tool, rather than a burden.

The right app, with all the appropriate bells and whistles, will bring the best of online shopping to brick-and-mortar stores.

Read more about the other technologies prompting the Return of Brick and Mortar.

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