People are eager to return to in-person shopping, but they want all the ease and convenience of the online ordering we’ve gotten used to over the past year. That’s why now is the perfect time to up the ante for customers shopping your showrooms, both in-person and online.
Don’t forget that for many of your potential customers, the in-store shopping experience is tinged with a bit of nostalgia, especially as a lot of us have missed visiting our favorite stores during the past 18 months. Across the board, the pandemic sparked feelings of longings for our “old lives,” with 71% of consumers saying they’re enjoying items and activities that remind them of more carefree times. (This would include going shopping for new fashion items.)
“We have one rack with premium bands and new arrivals, making it easy for our high-end and repeat customers to stop in and see what’s new or different.” Alison Banholzer, Wear Your Spirit Wearhouse
It’s also great news that apparel sales have been climbing each month this year, and retail as a whole is experiencing a nice return to pre-pandemic sales. These promising numbers reflect what’s happening in the wholesale print market, as businesses and brands look to purchase new uniforms or branded merchandise for giveaways or retail sales.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to create great in-store and online shopping experiences that reflect what shoppers crave most. Read on for tips from the experts about how to make shopping in your brick-and-mortar and cyber showrooms even easier, more convenient and even fun for your customers.
THE IN-SHOP SHOWROOM EXPERIENCE
If you have a brick-and-mortar shop, how should you change up your showroom experience? Well, for some starter inspiration, take Logo Unlimited. Since the team does all their decorating in-house, they have the unique capability to showcase their products and techniques to clients onsite.
“With COVID-19, we saw a dip in people coming into our showroom, but we’ve encouraged visits as things have opened up,” says Artem Ionitsa, owner. “It’s important for clients to visit our physical showroom, so they can look at things first-hand. We like to show off our decorated possibilities, and have them touch the products and see the detail. Clients come in with one idea, and end up leaving with dozens. That’s why our showroom is our number-one selling tool.”
Check out these 10 smart tips that will have buyers coming back on repeat to your print shop’s showroom.
1. Space your racks and merchandise displays farther apart to allow for social distancing.
People are on a wide spectrum with virus protocols. Some are comfortable venturing out without a mask, while others will wear them no matter what. Respect these differences by having hand sanitizers available, spacious areas and walkways, plexiglass at the checkout area, and open doors and windows (and where possible, extra ventilation). Ask your staff to wear masks and set up additional appropriate protective measures if you’re in a high-infection area.
“Because more shoppers are used to quality built experiences online, anything less is met with an instant reaction. They simply click and go somewhere else.” Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab
2. Declutter your showroom and use signage.
In the current environment, customers can feel overwhelmed in a cluttered environment, so be deliberate about how you set up your displays. If your racks or shelving aren’t neat or too close together, buyers can get the idea that you’re not organized. Include on-brand signage to direct people quickly to where they want to go. At Wear Your Spirit Warehouse, the team incorporates their decorating processes into their signage. For example, they print floor decals that include the shop’s airplane and aviation branding. Right down the middle of their showroom, they’ve affixed a giant floor decal of a runway. “We get asked all the time where we got the decal and we’re quick to tell them that we print them right here in our shop,” says Alison Banholzer, owner.
alphabroder offers showroom signage, hangers, swatch cards and more to help you uplevel your shop’s look fast. Check it out here.
3. Create an on-brand experience for your clients.
Following Wear Your Spirit Warehouse’s aviation-themed branding, Banholzer’s team also set up an airline beverage cart that holds customer trays. Each tray has a small catalog, a rack card, business card, small notepad and pen pre-positioned on it.
When a new customer walks in, a team member hands them a tray. “This gives our prospective buyer a notepad and hard surface to write on,” Banholzer says. “Plus, this experience vividly shows them how creative we can be with branded merchandise, making us the right experts to help them with their branding.”
4. Create a visually stunning experience.
This can take a lot of forms, but the idea is to wow people when they walk in your shop. You might include groupings like-colored T-shirts together or a “wall of decorated T-shirts” above your T-shirt display. Showing off your different decorating processes with lots of samples is one of the easiest ways to bring a smile to your buyer’s face. Plus, you’ll educate them about how the processes look when finished and get them excited about seeing their logo in “specialty screen-printing inks” or “a faux leather patch.”
Wear Your Spirit Warehouse’s customers like to shop by product category. For instance, if they want to see all the polo options, the showroom groups all available polos on a rack in a good-better-best order. “This way, customers can see products together, and touch and feel the differences easily,” Banholzer says. “We include hang-tags on our items with SKU numbers, blank item costs and color options, so it’s easy for our sales staff to make notes.” The shop also has a rack for premium bands and new arrivals. “That makes it easy for our high-end and repeat customers to stop in to see what’s new or different,” she says.
Logo Unlimited approaches their displays in a similar way. “Our setup is extremely welcoming,” Ionitsa says. “It’s designed to get our clients’ brains going with, ‘What products can I use? What decorating methods would look good on them?’”
5. Where possible, create interactive displays.
Encourage your customers to feel the different apparel and fabrics, and hold the samples up to mirrors. (Just be prepared to have your staff ready to sanitize these areas frequently.)
The Wear Your Spirit Warehouse team set up four lockers, each dedicated to one of their local high schools. Each locker is decked out in the school’s colors and logo, in different decoration methods. “When a team or coach walks in to work with us, we can easily show them different production methods, various color ways for their logo and a wide product selection in their school colors,” Banholzer says. “Our local sports teams love this!”
6. Use lots of display models.
In stores, we’re used to seeing display mannequins showing us head-to-toe looks. Consider placing your decorated apparel on men’s, women’s, and kids’ forms around your shop. Take it a step further by having your staff wearing different apparel items you offer while they’re in the shop.
7. Give in-store demonstrations.
Demo your decoration or design work to encourage more purchases. Visitors are a lot more excited and invested once they’ve seen the screen-print or DTG process in front of them. You can even host live workshops that you advertise on social media and your website to encourage people to come in at certain times. If they attend, they can get free items or a discount on their next purchase. Live stream these events on your social media accounts as well so people who can’t be there in person still get that in-store “feel.”
8. Set up self-serve kiosks.
If you offer hyper-personalization or print on demand in your shop, you should definitely have self-serve kiosks so that a browser can become a buyer instantly. You can also use these self-serve stations for regular decorated-apparel orders if your system has an online designer. Of course, you’ll still want to have staff on hand to help and answer questions.
9. Set up a consultation area.
This can be in your showroom or in a separate conference room, where you have refreshments. Use a laptop or two where you can show people apparel samples and set up a virtual mockup of their logo on apparel (on the laptop screen). This way, they can see and approve the design right away, speeding up the ordering process.
“The key to aligning in-store and online shopping experiences is all about communication. Live chat tools provide a convenient way to interact with prospective customers as they shop. You can quickly address questions that might otherwise prevent a shopper from completing their order.” JP Hunt, InkSoft
At Logo Unlimited, a meeting with a new client lasts 30 to 60 minutes, or even longer. “We show them our samples, give them a tour of the facility and then show them the individual decorating equipment,” Ionitsa says. “Then, there’s the consultation part where we help the client choose the apparel, design and imprinting method.”
10. Give special discounts or freebies.
For instance, consider offering a decorated T-shirt promo item to a shop visitor. Create a welcome kit of branded items for a new customer who places an order. Someone who comes into your store and looks around is more likely to be a customer and a loyal one at that, so encourage them with a logoed gift.
THE ECOMMERCE EXPERIENCE
From the minute your customer walks into your shop, they begin to decide whether your brand is worthy of their business. The same is true for those checking out your website, from a laptop or a smartphone, so it’s a good idea to bake your brand vibe and experience into your ecommerce store.
“People like the convenience and ease of a webstore that’s built with a frictionless experience,” says Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab. “They simply click and go somewhere else. Because more shoppers are used to quality-built experiences online, anything less is met with an instant reaction.”
Tip: If you’re just getting started with ecommerce, there are several industry-specific vendors that can assist you in creating your platform. These include: InkSoft, Printavo, OrderMyGear, DecoNetwork and Spirit Sale.
“We’re working on a site redesign and enabling e-store capabilities,” Ionitsa says. “A customer can browse and find an item they like, upload a logo and place their order.” He plans to use the ecommerce tool’s data-gathering abilities to understand customer trends and needs. “Knowing this information will allow us to explore new brands, fabrics and techniques to fit those needs,” he says. “Staying fresh and innovative is always something we strive to maintain.”
If you have an ecommerce store, it may be time to do a site evaluation as we head toward 2022. Determine if your cyber-site checks all the boxes of what you should have in your ecommerce shopping experience.
Use this handy checklist to rate your ecommerce site and see how it stacks up, and where you might need to make some improvements:
- How fast does your site load on a laptop or mobile device? Atkinson says your site should load in two seconds or less. (You can check your site speed here.)
- How easy is it for users to navigate your site no matter what device they’re using? “Here’s a test: Close your eyes and then look at your website,” Atkinson says. “What’s the one thing someone instantly knows, and what’s the one thing you want them to do? When you confuse, you lose.”
- Does the look and feel of your online store need to be updated to reflect today’s ecommerce experiences, or to reflect your brand? “If I’m your potential customer, what do I see that builds trust and confidence that I should stick around to learn more?” Atkinson says.
- How long does it take on average for a new or existing customer to arrive on the site and place an order end to end? This is a good starting point. Send out a customer survey and give those loyal customers who respond a discount or “thank you” for taking the time to help you learn more about their online experience.
- Is it easy for customers to find in-stock apparel, or are they overwhelmed with choices? “Does your site provide clear product recommendations and suggestions such as featured, popular, trending, new and on sale?” says JP Hunt, co-founder of InkSoft.
- Does your store show additional items customers might like or they can pair with the item they were searching for?
- How easy is it for your customer to upload their own artwork or use your online designer tool (with fonts and clipart) to create a design they like? Can they see it on the apparel they like? After seeing their own artwork on apparel they like, can they then say “yes” to placing the order and paying online?
- Can they get live or fast help from a staffer if they need it from your shop? “I want to place an order, so who do I call for help,” Atkinson says. “How hard does someone have to dig to find out how to connect or get help?”
- Do you have a chatbot or other way they can reach out? (Some shops have staffers always available to help via phone if needed.)
- On the back end, do you receive the order information fast and efficiently so that your staff can start processing and printing the order?
Finally, don’t neglect the mobile shopping experience. Create interactive mobile experiences. Mobile devices have really taken over when it comes to online usage. So far in 2021, 54% of all web traffic is from a mobile device. To accommodate this, optimize your website for mobile usage. “While working on your main site, ask, don’t forget to develop a dedicated, mobile-friendly responsive version?” Hunt says.
“With companies trending away from stocking orders, being able to offer employees and consumers an online shopping experience is critical.” Craig Mertens, Graphics Flow
You might also consider developing an app that can be used by your repeat customers. Major retailers such as Walmart and Target have apps allowing customers to shop and set up for delivery or in-store pickup. These apps can also send notifications about sales.
Retailers like Cache and Dooney & Bourke have similar apps that mirror their websites. This way, customers can see everything that’s on the website from the mobile platform without losing any functionality.
ECOMMERCE IDEAS FOR NEWBIES & VETERANS
Once you’ve optimized your e-store experience, take a look at these five other ideas to keep your customers close:
1. Design your website for a personalized experience.
Include an identifier on your home page so users can choose the experience they’ll have for themselves. Create a button for the return customers and a button for “New Friends.” This way, you give helpful info to those who want to know more about the shop including who you are, what your values are and what kind of apparel you carry. This makes your return customer’s journey straight to the point.
2. Consider using live chat on your site.
“The key to aligning in-store and online shopping experiences is all about communication,” Hunt says. “Live chat tools provide a convenient way to interact with prospective customers as they shop. You can quickly address questions that might otherwise prevent a shopper from completing their order. Live chat tools have dramatically improved and include automation and AI technologies to interact with customers 24/7 without the need to monitor and maintain actual live conversations.”
3. Graphics are a critical component of making online sales.
Right now, it’s definitely not enough to just “print a logo on a T-shirt.” Smart ecommerce-enabled decorators create graphics that inspire people to purchase. “Whether you’re working with freelance designers or have an in-house art department, an artwork capability is an essential resource in today’s market,” says Craig Mertens, general manager at Graphics Flow. “Top branding companies have sophisticated graphics capabilities. People don’t buy T-shirts; they buy graphics.”
(A tool like Graphics Flow is designed to level the playing field and make an effective graphics capability available to even the smallest shops.)
4. Offer to set up and fulfill online stores for your customers.
“With companies trending away from stocking orders, being able to offer employees and consumers an online shopping experience is critical,” Mertens says. “Employees want to look cool when they’re representing their brand.”
5. Reward return customers.
As return customers identify themselves, you can reward them along their purchase journey by giving them special discounts.
Get them on your email list, so you can stay in touch with new apparel arrivals, new decorating techniques, case studies and special offers. If you can, get their snail mail address as well so you can send lumpy mail around the holidays or in the summer to get them excited about revamping their branded merch. You can also use this to send out samples of products as a thank you for their business.
6. Capture reviews to increase future sales.
Encourage repeat customers to leave reviews. After all, they must love your brand if they keep coming back! Reviews on your website increase online purchases by as much as 74 percent.
You can also use your social media accounts to encourage user-generated content, such as pictures of customers wearing your branded merchandise. They can tag you on your posts and help to market your business to their friends and followers.
WHAT TO DO TODAY
Shopping online is convenient, but there’s something about the in-store shopping experience that people appreciate. If you want to up your game for customers coming into your showroom or browsing on your ecommerce website, consider upping the ante in person and online. You’ll watch customers come back again and again.
Plus, keep an eye on new technologies, like augmented reality. “AR technology will allow customers to experience products virtually during the shopping experience,” Hunt says. ”AR will be a major extension of the in-store experience and will be an expected shopping feature in the future.”
As an added bonus to Wear Your Spirit’s Warehouse’s online store customers, the team creates social media graphics for them to use at the same time they create their store and artwork, at no additional charge. “This keeps many of our customers coming back,” Owner Alison Banholzer says. “This also makes it very easy for them to post on social media to promote their store, which in turn increases sales and means more revenue for our shop.”
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Laurie is part of the marketing team for the leading supplier in the industry, alphabroder. During her free time, Laurie likes to ride horses, sail and spend time with her husband and her two children. Reach her at Lprestine@alphabroder.com