Business > Merchant Voice

Lessons from a corner shop closing down

You’ve likely seen a few brick-and-mortar shops go out of business in recent times. I recently saw hastily-printed sheets at local ice cream store — called Lick Me — thanking its customers for years of loyal patronage.

I shopped there once a couple of years ago. I hate to see companies fail. I see lessons that any online retailer can learn from a struggling brick-and-mortar store.

Poor positioning

Lick Me was near a disparate line of retailers, including a yoga studio, accountancy office, pizza parlor, interior decorator salon, and antiques shop — all in a prosperous neighborhood. Ideally, it should have been near many other cafes and food stores. There was nowhere to park. You had to make a special effort to park your car or walk there.

Similarly, customers won’t buy from an ecommerce site unless we offer a real, unique offering that they crave.

Lesson: Is your website using the right branding and language to reach shoppers? Can they find you in a specialist directory of other companies selling similar or complementary products and services? Is your company office in an area with a demand for those items? Consumers like to shop online and pick up for free, locally.

Poor branding

Based purely on the cool name, I thought Lick Me would be a trendy store offering delicious frozen treats in takeaway cones and cups. But it is actually an ice cream manufacturer selling bulk ice cream and sorbet to restaurants. Why they had two retail shops in addition to its factory escapes me.

The decor was not inviting, and the product display was perfunctory. The brand name did not match with what I expected. I don’t think I ever saw a customer inside.

The company’s logo suggests it is consumer friendly, but the brand experience is not. Perhaps it should sell products only from its factory, where buyers don’t quite expect the “retail touch.”

Lesson: Can (or does) your business sell to both wholesale and retail buyers? Does a brick-and-mortar shop boost your branding and sales, or produce losses? Is it worth having separate B2C and B2B websites? Can you cater to businesses by creating password-protected, trade-only accounts?

Poor signage

Lick Me’s signage was badly executed and positioned.

There was one logo, and a small URL painted on the metal awning. The shop’s biggest sign read “Take Home Ice Cream.” It was adjacent to a smaller metal “Ice Cream Cakes” sign, and there was an “Ice cream cakes” blue neon sign on the shop window. None of the typefaces or fonts matched.

It also had homemade flyers offering cheap coffee and donuts and other offers stuck on the windows to appeal to the few passing pedestrians.

Lick Me’s array of mismatched signage made it to hard to understand what it specialized in, and amateurish.

Lesson: Your H1, H2, H3 headings should reflect your category and products in order of importance. Consumers drive past retail stores — and visit online stores — and devote about three seconds trying to work out what they sell. So your point of difference has to be immediately clear, and irresistible.

Poor product offering

Lick Me did not sell ice cream in the sugar wafer cones as I expected. Instead it sold ice cream cakes and bulk ice cream tubs.

The “Take Home Ice Cream” sign seemed pointless as a unique selling point. Anyone can take home ice cream from a supermarket. The sign should have read “Wholesale Ice Cream to Public” or “Ice Cream Catering.”

The “Ice Cream Cakes” signage drew me in. My husband loves ice cream cakes. On the one occasion I shopped there, I was disappointed to see there were only three plain cakes on display in the freezer cabinet. I purchased one, but my husband didn’t think it was particularly good.

If I had known it sold ice cream in bulk, I would have bought some.

Lesson: A small online product range can sell well if shoppers know they can buy in bulk or at wholesale prices.

Poor navigability

Not only was shop was badly lit, the homemade printed signs on the windows obscured the interior. The store was unattractive and there were no parking spaces,. It took me a couple of years to have a reason to visit.

When I did visit, I expected to see dozens of amazingly decorated ice cream cakes — not just the three plain ones in the freezer cabinet. There was no obvious prices. The assistant wasn’t trained well as she didn’t upsell me by offering additional cakes or bulk tubs.

Lesson: Offer clear labeling, navigation and pricing, and a search function to help speed shoppers’ purchasing. Create a brief, pithy slogan explaining what you sell and to whom.

Have you ever applied an idea from a physical store to your own ecommerce site?

Elizabeth Hollingsworth
Elizabeth Hollingsworth
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