African-American man playing a guitar in a music store
African-American man playing a guitar in a music store

competing with online retailers

Competing with online retailers is tough, but it can be done. Brick-and-mortar stores still hold some advantages over online shops and using these advantages can help you compete. For a physical retail business to keep its footing, there are adaptations you should make so you can continue to compete in their market and stay relevant.

Use the online option to drive in-store traffic

Just because you don’t have an online presence doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The simple truth is that if you want your brick-and-mortar location to remain competitive, you need to enhance it with an online presence to complement and enhance what you do.

Competing with online retailers is tough, but it can be done.

They’re surprisingly easy to set up. If your business has a Facebook page – and it should – then you can set up a Facebook store. You can also sell through 3rd party sites like Amazon, EBay, Shopify or you can go all-out and set up an online store on your website, complete with checkouts and payment options.

The trick is to create unique offers and products that can only be accessed in-store. So, when customers are at your online site, they’ll see a special offer or a new product that they must make a trip to your store to take advantage of. And while they’re there, there’s a good chance they’ll buy something else during their visit.

Other online tactics:

  • Run competitions that are based on buying products in the store
  • Offer discount coupons and special sales redeemable only in-store
Group of customers interacting at a bookstore

Build awareness in person

A focus on brand awareness and keeping your name out there is essential. It’s a key element of marketing: identify your target market and then create a laser focus on it. To keep your brand top of mind, making sure that you’re always visible to your customers, you can try:

  • Speaking at industry retail related events and be quoted by external media
  • Setting up webinars or workshops for customers and hold the event in your shop
  • Participating in local media, social channels and talking about what you do any chance you get
  • Sponsor local community events or activities

Not only will you be ensuring that your brand is visible in the marketplace, you’ll also be cementing your reputation as an expert in your industry, which builds customer confidence. Potential and existing customers are more likely to visit you at your physical location if they can, to get your insights and to examine your products.

Promote the advantage of retail

We are social beings and ‘going shopping’ isn’t called ‘retail therapy’ for nothing. We like to go out and interact with others. To encourage this, build on the benefits of retail such as:

  • Try before you buy. Regardless of how sophisticated online shopping gets, it’s still not the same as picking something up, feeling, touching, or tasting before you buy it.
  • Promoting instant gratification by being able to take home the product that day.
  • Being able to talk to the person you bought the product from, in case you need to either return it, or ask for instructions or advice.

Add value for the customer

Focus on the customer experience and make sure it’s the best you can offer. Play to the strengths of your physical location by providing customer experiences they wouldn’t get online, such as in-store exclusives, or special attractions. For example:

  • A bookstore could have an in-store signing when an author’s book is released.
  • A hairdressing salon could offer free tutorials on new styles.
  • A hardware store could have demonstrations of a new product by experts.
  • Photographic businesses can hold free classes on how to take better photos (even with your phone).

There are many ways that your brick-and-mortar location can add to the customer experience in ways that are impossible for online retailers. All it takes is a bit of imagination.

Fight fire with fire

Use your online marketing tools such as social media and your website to encourage customers away from their computer and into your store. If you’re holding an event of some kind, make sure it’s thoroughly promoted on your social media platforms. A social media schedule like the example below can help keep your brand top of mind.

  • Two or three Facebook posts a week or so apart
  • The same on LinkedIn if your business has a B2B aspect
  • Twitter messages spaced 3 or 4 days apart

The messages should all be geared to what’s happening at your physical location, and what customers will get if they show up. It could be a one-time only discount, the chance to listen to a celebrity speaker, or competition opportunities.


Competing with online retailers is not only possible, the tactics you use will give your brick-and-mortar location a lift that you’ll notice in increased sales and revenue at your physical store. It’s all about giving your customers an experience they can’t get online, and that means being tangible: after-sales support, education, workshops, competitions, and most importantly, an outstanding customer experience. No matter how big online retail becomes, it won’t replace the personal touch.