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Independent retailers need to start the process before it’s too late. An interview with Dick Abbott.

Fruchtman: What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing independent retailers today?

Abbott: The biggest challenges I see are making the adjustments to a new world of retailing. A world where technology plays a leading role in the way people shop. Many millennials will search the web for a retailer they want to do business with. Retailers must be familiar with and use social media channels to their benefit and have a website that provides the information and experience important to them. So I see the digital hurdle as their biggest challenge going forward.

Fruchtman: Why is omni-channel selling so important?

Abbott: Because today you don’t know where the customer is coming from. No longer are they just walking into your store because of a radio or television commercial, billboard or print ad. They become aware of your store through a variety of social media and driving them to a website that represents your brand in every way is essential. Shooting text messages to clients reminding them of an upcoming birthday or anniversary and providing gift solutions that can be purchased in store or on-line is a huge advantage over those who cannot. When all the pieces fit together, and the experience on-line and in store complement each other, sales activity can only improve.

Fruchtman: How important is it to integrate your POS system if you want to sell online?

Abbott: Vital! It is essential that your store and website inventory are in sync with one another. Prices have to be consistent, statuses must be maintained. You need to track when an item was purchased from the store and vice versa. The POS system should be the epicenter of the omni-channel world, containing all the functionality to help the jeweler make the best use of all the data they can accumulate.   

Fruchtman: What steps do retailers need to take to be competitive with larger online sellers?

Abbott: Brick and mortar stores can compete by having a presence on the web that represents the store’s brand in the best light. They need to provide a more personal experience than the larger on-line retailers. After all, they are likely to know more about them, and they need to capitalize on that in their website’s functionality. Product information, educational resources, the story behind the store, reasonable return policies, sharp jewelry images, etc. are all essential elements for a good website. The website needs to be responsive to ensure that mobile users have a positive experience. They must spend wisely on SEO to help grab online shoppers as well as store customers. Stay personal on Facebook, Instagram, text messaging. Be helpful, offer advice, write and share articles, build a following.

Fruchtman:  Do independent retailers have an advantage over some of these other larger online sellers like Blue Nile, James Allen, etc.?

Abbott: They have an advantage over online sellers because of the trust factor they have developed over the years. They have been serving their customers face to face and they can capitalize on this. Price alone is usually not the only factor in making a purchase. A large percentage of people still like buying from people they like, as long as they can satisfy their merchandise needs. Independents are not going to have the same far reaching capabilities as a Blue Nile, but in the local community, they have the advantage of their physical presence and the ability to deliver exceptional experiences.

Fruchtman: If you were building a website for your store, what do you feel are the most important features?

Abbott: I would want my website to be an extension of my store. I would like wish list items to be bi-directional so both the website experience and the store could have this information put to good use via the website functionality. I would want the website to be proactive by notifying significant others of upcoming occasions and provide suggestions. I would want a design that complemented my store. I would want it to provide easy navigation and my product images would be first class with full product information. I would want it to provide an online experience that mimicked the in store experience.

Fruchtman: What can retailers do now to get prepared to sell online?

Abbott: They can get their inventory in shape. Nobody wants to buy three, four or five year old inventory and none of that should be included on their websites. They could make sure their product images are web ready and product descriptions are complete. The product titles should embellish the product and not be limited to “Platinum Engagement Ring”. They should work on their SEO strategy and have a streamlined e-commerce method in place. You only get one shot at a good first impression, and your website is increasingly becoming that shot. Make it easy to use, present quality images and descriptions of relevant products, give it the attention it deserves as an integral piece of your business.

Dick Abbott is President and Founder of Abbott Jewelry Systems and creator of The Edge retail jewelry store software system. We caught up with him to ask for his insights on omni-channel retailing.

Ellen Fruchtman is President of Fruchtman Marketing.