Online shopping is more popular than ever—and its popularity only grew during the pandemic. However, even with its popularity and even with its accelerated growth, eCommerce still only comprises 14 percent of the retail sales in the U.S. The overwhelming majority of shopping still happens at traditional brick and mortar stores. 

Why? According to a survey of more than 1,300 shoppers, the five primary reasons people opt for in-person shopping over online shopping are:

  1. A desire to see or feel the item in person.
  2. The ability to get the product immediately.
  3. Fewer concerns about privacy.
  4. No shipping costs.
  5. Easier and cheaper returns.

Those survey results should read as a to-do list for an eCommerce retailer; if those are the five main reasons customers would favor a brick and mortar store over your eCommerce store, it’s imperative for you to close that gap.

In this article, we’ll address each of those barriers to eCommerce adoption and discuss strategies (and WooCommerce extensions) you can use to narrow the gap between the experience you provide online and one a customer might get in a store.

1. Give customers a better look at the products 

The tangible experience of touching, feeling, and trying an item is the top reason customers prefer in-store shopping. While you can’t replicate this experience online exactly—and there’s no teleportation technology on the horizon to make that happen—you can take steps to make the online experience at least somewhat closer to the tactile in-person experience.

WooCommerce 360° Image ($49/year at WooCommerce.com) is an extension that  allows customers to see your products from all angles. The extension will add a responsive 360-degree image rotation to your featured product image; customers can rotate the image to get a better look of the product using navigation controls.

The extension is also touch-enabled. This means that even customers shopping on their phones and tablets will be able to interact with the rotating image; that’s important, since the majority of eCommerce purchases are now made on mobile devices.

A 360 degree image example.
WooCommerce 360° Image in action. Via: WooCommerce.com.

On a similar note, if you sell multiple variations of products like, say, a shirt in three colors, your customers should be able to see a full image gallery for each of those variations. But by default, WooCommerce only swaps the primary product image when someone selects a variation, for example, a green shirt rather than a black shirt.

Fortunately, extensions like WooThumbs ($79/year at IconicWP.com) and WooCommerce Additional Variation Images ($49/year at WooCommerce.com) give you the ability to add additional gallery images for each variation of a product in your WooCommerce store. With these extensions, the customer could also see other views of that green shirt, like a back or side view. In person, a customer would be able to see all the angles of different variations of a product; it’s good to replicate that experience online as well.

Another great way to help customers get a more three-dimensional understanding of your products is through what other customers say in their reviews. The WooCommerce Product Reviews Pro extension ($79/year at WooCommerce.com) allows you to add features to the reviews on your site that can be extremely useful for customers who are trying to get a better understanding of your products before making a purchase decision. 

First, customers can upload their own photos and videos with Product Reviews Pro. While your own product photography is crucial to showcase your products, it’s also valuable for customers to see visual proof of how other people are using the products to make a more informed decision.

And second, Product Reviews Pro allows you to ask “review qualifiers”—those are questions about, say, how an item of clothing fits. Since someone shopping online can’t hold your product or, in the case of clothing, try it on, hearing other people describe their experiences with the product can provide some much-needed insight.

Product Reviews Pro in action.

2. Get the product out faster and cheaper

Two of the five main reasons why customers prefer in-person shopping are tied to fulfillment: They want the product immediately, and they want to save money on shipping.

The best way to address both of those customer preferences is by adding free local pickup to your products. The WooCommerce extension Local Pickup Plus ($79/year at WooCommerce.com) is a robust system for arranging customer pickups at your location (or multiple locations, distribution centers, or other pickup sites). By allowing customers to pick up a product rather than wait on it to be shipped, they get the immediacy of brick-and-mortar shopping with all the convenience of online shopping—plus they don’t have to worry about shipping costs. (And if you offer free shipping, that means you also don’t have to worry about shipping costs.)

Of course, not every one of your eCommerce customers will live near your store, so click-and-collect may not be available for all shoppers. In those cases, your customers will have to balance their desire for fast shipping with their desire for cheap or free shipping. In most circumstances, they’ll opt for free shipping (one survey found 82 percent of customers would rather get something shipped free than fast). However, if they do want expedited shipping, it’s good to provide that option—and since fast shipping rates can vary quite a bit, it’s important to provide accurate costs.

Check out the Table Rate Shipping extension ($99/year at WooCommerce.com), which gives you the option to define multiple shipping rates based on locations, prices, weights, or item counts.

Table Rate Shipping setup.

You can also look into adding extensions for shipping methods like UPS, USPS, FedEx, Canada Post, and more ($79/year each at Woocommerce.com). You can use those extensions to add live shipping rates to your store, giving customers an accurate look at what expedited shipping will cost them.

3. Help curb concerns over privacy

There are some basic things you can do to help mitigate customers’ privacy concerns with eCommerce, like making sure you have an SSL certificate, writing a clear privacy policy, and adding trust icons to your site.

Trust icons in action.
Trust icons at checkout. Via: Earning Guys.

Another good way to give your customers a sense of privacy is to ask them only for the personal information you actually need. Checkout Field Editor ($49/year at WooCommerce.com) is an extension that lets you remove or edit the fields in your WooCommerce checkout. So, for example, if you’re selling digital products and don’t really need a customer’s physical address—with this extension, you can avoid asking for it.

You can also help put a customer at ease by providing them the opportunity to pay via trusted payment gateways. Extensions for gateways like PayPal, Stripe, and Poynt are free (you will, however, pay transaction fees) and can help allay privacy and security concerns. There are paid extensions for other popular payment gateways as well including Authorize.net and Chase Paymentech ($79/year and up at WooCommerce.com).

4. Make returns a simple process

Returns are the final major factor why customers opt for in-person shopping over online shopping. And returns aren’t just a pain point for customers—they’re tough on eCommerce merchants as well. Customers are significantly more likely to return products they bought online (and the whole “not having a tactile experience before buying” certainly plays a role). 57 percent of eCommerce businesses say returns have a negative effect on their day-to-day business. And the cost of processing a return can be up to two-thirds of the total selling price.

So as you make returns easier on customers, you’ll also want to make returns easier on yourself.

The first step (in both cases) is posting a clear return policy on your site. Two out of three customers check a store’s return policy before making a purchase. When it comes to strategy for that return policy, it’s a smart idea to offer a longer window for returns. Approximately 80 percent of returns happen within the first 14 days. A more generous return policy can be a marketing boost and sales incentive, helping customers feel more comfortable buying—and it probably won’t lead to too many excess returns, since the majority of customers make their returns early.

It’s also crucial to keep returns organized, both for your sake and your customers’ sake. The Returns and Warranty Requests extension ($79/year at WooCommerce.com) is a good tool for doing just that. You can manage all of your returns from one view in your store while also allowing your customers to monitor their return status through their account. 

5. Have a “salesperson” available to answer questions

Although “the ability to talk to a salesperson” didn’t make the list of the top five reasons customers prefer in-store shopping to online shopping, it’s also worth taking the time to address that in-person/online divide.

In a brick and mortar store, a customer can turn to the store employees to get answers almost immediately. You can close the gap in your online store by having a live chat managed by your customer service team. Now… many growing stores don’t have a customer service team. And in these cases, you can use an extension like Woo Bot for WooCommerce ($29/year at WooCommerce.com). This is a chatbot extension that allows customers to ask questions as if they’re talking to a salesperson. You can set up the bot with responses to common questions, and also monitor its activity (via email notifications or through its logs) so you can manually handle customers’ more complex questions.

An eCommerce chatbot in action.

Key takeaways

Even though online shopping is growing in popularity, brick and mortar is still receiving the bulk of retail activity. So as an eCommerce store owner (or someone who handles eCommerce stores for clients), it’s crucial to take steps to bridge the gap between the in-person and online shopping experience.

The main reasons people prefer in-person shopping include:

  • A desire to see or feel the item in person.
  • The ability to get the product immediately.
  • Fewer concerns about privacy.
  • No shipping costs.
  • Easier and cheaper returns.

And there are several things you can do to address those concerns:

  • Give customers a better look at the products. Use extensions like WooCommerce 360° Image, WooThumbs, and WooCommerce Additional Variation Images to give your customers a better look at your products. And use WooCommerce Product Reviews Pro to improve your reviews, making them more useful for online customers who don’t have the ability to pick up or try on products.
  • Get the product out faster and cheaper. Customers like the immediacy of in-person shopping. They also like not having to pay for shipping. Extensions like Local Pickup Plus can provide the immediacy of in-person shopping with the convenience of online shopping. And by using Table Rate Shipping and live rates from multiple shipping providers, customers can see the exact cost of getting a product shipped fast.
  • Help curb privacy concerns. Make sure your site is secure, only ask for necessary information (editing your checkout form with Checkout Field Editor), and incorporate multiple payment gateways to allow your customers to pay with a trusted processor.
  • Make returns simple. Post your return policy, and consider making the returns window longer rather than shorter. And use an extension like Returns and Warranty Requests to manage all of your returns in one place.
  • Have a “salesperson” answer questions. Add a chatbot to your site to handle customers’ questions. The bots can provide answers to common questions, and you can jump in to handle more complex ones.

The following extensions mentioned in this post are included at no additional charge in the GoDaddy Managed WordPress eCommerce hosting package:

  • WooCommerce 360° Image
  • WooCommerce Additional Variation Images
  • WooCommerce Product Reviews Pro
  • Local Pickup Plus
  • Table Rate Shipping
  • Shipping methods for UPS, USPS, FedEx, Canada Post, and more
  • Checkout Field Editor
  • Payment gateways including Authorize.net, Chase Paymentech, and more
  • Returns and Warranty Requests

Click here to learn more about GoDaddy’s WooCommerce hosting options.

Published by Brenda Barron

Brenda Barron is a writer and editor from southern California specializing in business and technology. When not click-clacking away at the keyboard, she's spending time with her family, gardening, knitting, playing piano, and otherwise keeping busy.

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