How to Drive Retail Traffic with Engaging In-Store Experiences

open sign on store

Competition in the retail industry is becoming increasingly fierce, but independent SMBs are finding new ways to thrive by taking a creative approach to generating store traffic. To stay competitive in this environment, start thinking about your retail space as more than just a store. Your space offers unlimited opportunities to bring in potential customers with an engaging experience. Positive experiences build your brand so that customers associate your store with being an enjoyable place to visit—even when they don’t need anything.

Looking for exciting and affordable ways to do that? Here are four suggestions to get you started:

Host Meetup groups
Meetup is a social and business networking site that drives people with common interests to form groups that meet regularly in person. The site has more than 23 million members and 212,809 Meetup groups, and more than 9,000 groups get together in local communities every day, including yours.

Many local businesses lend their spaces to Meetup group organizers as a way to drive qualified traffic. For example, if you have an office supply store, you can contact Meetup organizers of entrepreneurial, networking, computer, software, or other business groups and invite them to hold a meeting at your store. If you have a hardware and lumber store, you can find DIY and related interest groups. Consider inviting the organizers of these events to hold a Meetup at your store. In exchange, you may offer the organizer a significant purchase discount or all of the members a small discount for the week. You could even offer to bring in food and beverages for a Meetup that correlates strongly with your target customer.

Some of the best ideas involve providing an expert speaker or workshop instructor. For example, an office supply store manager could invite a desk ergonomics consultant to teach entrepreneurs how to properly set up computer stations to maximize employee productivity.

Hold an educational or DIY workshop
Home Depot and Lowes have been hosting DIY workshops for decades, and the concept is just as applicable to SMBs in all retail sectors. If you manage a hardware and lumber store, consider creating a calendar of events and promoting it in your store, as well as on your website and social platforms. One week, you may host an introductory workshop to demonstrate the purposes of your power tools. The next week, you may teach customers how to install floor tiles, or how to build a doghouse using your lumber. You could even sell lumber “kits,” already pre-cut and ready to assemble.

Place yourself in your customers’ shoes. How enjoyable will the experience of building a doghouse in your hardware and lumber store be for them? How excited will they be to take it home and talk about their accomplishment? How impressed will other shoppers will be when they see a group of customers constructing their own doghouses, or your power tools in action? Print up copies of your workshop calendar, because you’ll be getting many requests, and be prepared for extra foot traffic as passersby will be curious to see if there’s an event happening inside.

Now you may be concerned that you don’t have enough personnel to execute these events. Your major suppliers would love the opportunity to co-host an event with you that features their products. Arrange for them to provide the workshop instructor and materials while you offer the space and the customers; it’s a win-win.

Sponsor an event or contest
Many businesses give lip service or small donations in the name of community involvement; however, it pays for your business to go a step further and make a sincere investment in engaging with the community. One way to do this is by sponsoring and hosting events or contests. If you have an office supply store, consider having a book signing. If you are an art supply store, host a painting contest for local school students, with a $200 shopping spree at your store for the winner.

If you have a hardware and lumber store, host a carpentry skills contest in which each contestant gets a kit with lumber and tools, and 30 minutes to do something spectacular with it. A kitchen and cooking supply store could execute a similar contest. If it draws a crowd, the winner can be determined by applause. These types of events cost little to conduct and are ideal ways to generate buzz on social media before and after the event. When people in your community rave about an experience in your store, that’s proof your business has achieved true community involvement.

Set up a coffee lounge
If you have space you can dedicate to creating a coffee lounge, it can not only provide an extra revenue stream, but it will likely increase the average visitor time in your store. A coffee lounge enables people with common interests to gather and to talk about their purchases and share experiences. It also suggests to visitors that your store isn’t merely a place to make a quick purchase, but it’s a place to spend time and enjoy themselves.

Here’s the real magic behind the coffee lounge concept: People like to walk around and browse when they’re sipping coffee. It’s a sensory experience that enhances the joy of shopping. Think of coffee as an investment in average visit duration—and one that the customer reimburses!

Finally, the coffee lounge is an ideal setting for your Meetup groups, contests, and educational workshops—and FREE coffee for guests is yet another way to entice Meetup organizers to hold meetings in your space.

Each of these approaches to driving traffic through in-store experiences is affordable and easy to promote. Feature them on your website and in your advertising and social media channels. Leverage these events for greater ROI from these investments. Promote your events on a prominent blackboard visitors see as they enter your store, and on another just outside. Most of all, have fun; put your passion on display as you share in the experiences with your customers. Isn’t this why you became an independent SMB store owner or manager after all?

ECI Staff Contributors

About the Author

ECI Staff Contributors love to share their insights and expertise on a variety of topics including sales, marketing, cloud, ERP, and SMB development as well as on product specific education. With offices throughout the United States, Mexico, England, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, more than 40 employees contribute to blog on a regular basis.