Why Your Website Really is Your “Flagship Storefront”

by on September 04, 2013

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On the way to the office yesterday morning – as I often do – I was listening to NPR. I heard a story about Walgreens and how the drugstore chain was reinventing itself and moving in on department stores.

Apparently Walgreens had been building up “flagship stores” with (greatly) expanded services. The store featured in the story was located in Washington D.C.’s Chinatown district and included services such as a health clinic, a beauty boutique, nail salon and café. That’s a ways beyond the pharmacist and soda fountain of olden days’ Walgreens.

As I was listening I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between what was being described as the purpose, function for the flagship store and  what I’ve been telling clients about their own virtual “flagship storefront”, i.e. their website. It brought home how while everything changes, it really all stays the same. The fundamentals – why we, as business owners and marketers – do what we do doesn’t change much when we move from brick-and-mortar to the virtual, digital space in which so many of us do business nowadays.  

In this blog post I’ve put together three parallels I noticed in this NPR story, lessons really, that can be taken from Walgreens flagship stores and applied to your website.

1. Be where your customers are or where they search for you

For a brick-and-mortar like Walgreens that translates to location-location-location. Their flagship stores are placed in heavily trafficked areas, to attract attention and ensure there are sufficient visits. 

The corollary for a website is to ensure that you are easily found in your corner of the Internet. You can’t go to where your customers are, but make sure they can find you via all major digital channels. This means optimizing the use of any number of digital channels, from SEO, to paid search, display or social media.

2. Keep testing new products, services and design element to meet customer demand

Another reason Walgreens places its stores in populous neighborhoods is to enable rapid testing of ideas and quick collection of data that they can then translate into action (e.g. a product rollout to all other locations). Walgreens tests ideas, products, departments even fixtures. Divisional VP Beth Stiller is quoted as saying:

“Flagship stores are really our playground,” she says. “It’s where the merchants in our business get to test new trends and innovations and new ideas and new product offerings. So it allows us to get to market quicker in more stores with new product lines.”

We encourage clients to engage in ongoing testing on their website. Trying new messaging, new offers, new products and new experiences for visitors. A website should be an ever evolving environment, adapting its content and offering to the evolving market needs. The smallest changes – color of button, call to action, number of steps in a conversion process – can and often does lead to big gains in conversion rates and revenue.  

3. Engage visitors with great “stuff” and a pleasant experience so they stick around and buy more

Walgreens ensures the experience at the flagship store’s layout is optimized to fit customer expectations, needs and traffic flow. For example, the placement of the D.C. store attracts local business people and tourists around lunchtime, so the store placed their fresh prepared foods close to the entrance, making access easy. Similarly the health and beauty area is designed to take advantage of natural lighting and the staffers are dressed to provide decorum and again, create an ambiance and experience that encourages visitors to linger longer and return again and again and spend more. Data shows that the longer people spend in a store, the more likely they are to add things to their shopping cart that were not on their shopping list. Happy customers are also known to spread the word and tell their friends or coworkers to come along on the next shopping trip.

Similarly a website must do more than attract visitors by way of organic clicks and optimization. The post-click experience on the site must also be optimized. Start with your home page, the entrance or foyer of your virtual flagship store, the rim of your sales funnel if you’re an eCommerce website. The messaging on the home page should act like the invisible butler for the rest of the website, helping visitors get to what they need as easily and directly as possible. Have calls-to-action that help direct the traffic to the parts of the site where they will find satisfaction, whether it’s your product, your service or an answer (your awesome blog or scintillating white paper) they seek. If they have a good experience doing that, they’ll come back, and will share what they liked or disliked about your website or offering with their network. And with correctly configured website analytics, whether you’re using Google Analytics (it’s free, it’s powerful, we like it) or another analytics option, your website can help you collect valuable data about visitor behavior even more rapidly, enabling ongoing optimization of the user experience based on the behavior you capture. Using web analytics you’ll be able to turn that data into immediately

The biggest takeaway from the story is just like Walgreens, what happens at the “flagship store”, whether brick-and-mortar or virtual, matters hugely to the success of your business.

Just like Walgreens is evolving their stores into lifestyle centers, designed to encourage visitors to hang out and consume what they offer, so should you treat your website. Make sure it lays out the red carpet for your visitors and that it is easy to navigate and engaging. Treat your website as a test center, not a cost center. Your website is a combination of sales tool, testing ground and powerful data collection center. A well-cared for and “fed” website will be worth every penny you invest in its maintenance and optimization.

Hear the whole NPR segment here.

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