Shopping online can never match the retail experience of physical shopsThe day before Christmas we smashed my wife’s treasured Emma Bridgewater butter dish. While the lid with its memorable message ‘Don’t let the cat get the butter’ survived, my daughter and I determined to visit the local shops and effect an instant replacement.

But first we checked out the price online. Henley-on-Thames, our local market town, has a few showy independent homewares shops and while I was prepared to pay a premium I had set myself a limit. My surprise was to find the price was the same. I remarked on this to the owner, who was very aware of the clicks versus bricks challenge to the success of his store. This manufacturer, he said, worked quite hard to maintain its price points. I bought the dish and was delighted to receive a Christmas gift of a tea towel as well.

If Tesco’s business model is under threat from Amazon and the internet, does this mean your business model is too? Yes, is the answer of Michael Koploy of Software Advice (free online resource), who has just produced a guide things that local retailers need to do to compete. His blog on how to differentiate your store makes interesting reading.

His first point is “to re-think the purpose of [your] store. If it’s simply a place for customers to acquire products, [you] will lose against e-tailers. Instead, [you] should offer what an online shopping experience cannot replicate: a place to interact with people, a place to be entertained, and a place to learn. The key point is to deliver an experience, not to process a transaction.”

The Apple store, he suggests, is a good example of a retail experience the internet cannot match. You can handle every product, learn how to use them and bring your equipment in for servicing.  But again, the message is that your shop will be defined by how you serve your shoppers and how your service matches their needs rather than by the products that you sell. The difference may feel subtle but it is real.