A new retail sentiment survey by Levin Management Corporation, a North Plainfield-based commercial real estate services firm, finds brick-and-mortar retailers are adopting e-commerce and technology to help bring customers into their stores.

LMC President Matthew Harding says nearly half (47.3 percent) of tenants surveyed say they have stepped up their technology-centered marketing in 2017. More than a quarter (26.8 percent) plan to adopt new tech-based marketing tools this year.

He says in today's changing environment, the message is clear: "Adjust or go home." But Harding says the good news is that we continue to see our tenants embracing new ways to reach and service their customers, drawing them into their stores.

The survey also finds that 79 percent of retailers use email to reach out to their customers. More than 70 percent use social media and social marketing ways to reach out to their customers and advertise. A third of tenants are using online banner ads to lure in customers, too.

Many technologies are being used in-store to provide incentives. The most frequently used technique, according to Harding, is "the ability for the customer to order online. Come and pick up in the store. It's very convenient for the customer and also it allows the retailer to connect with the customer." There may also be an impulse purchase when the customer comes into the store to pick up their ordered item.

Other shopping incentives and conveniences include digital coupons, discounts and/or loyalty points. Nearly 73 percent of LMC respondents say they use them. About 35 percent provide the ability for in-store, online ordering with free shipping for out-of-stock items, while 32 percent have free Wi-Fi and 30.3 percent use e-receipts.

"It's all about making things convenient for the customer and that's what they're expecting," says Harding.

Social media has become critical in driving purchasing decisions with customers, he says. About 70 percent surveyed are incorporating social media and marketing in their efforts with half of the retailers seeing positive results. Facebook is the most popular, with over 80 percent of respondents using this social platform. Instagram and Twitter tie for second place at 37 percent each.

When it comes to social marketing platforms, Yelp is the most popular for LMC respondents, used by 66.4 percent, according to Harding

E-commerce is about 10 percent of total sales and has an impact on certain categories where merchandise is more of a commodity. "A television is exactly the same television, whether you buy it in a store or online," says Harding.

He believes that 10 percent will increase at a measured pace as a greater percentage of retail sales will be done online.

But social media is still a great way to reach out to customers and connect with them directly and also to tailor advertising. Technology has really made advertising for retailers and service providers much more efficient in the way they can target their customer, according to Harding.

There has also been a growing movement among online retailers toward establishing physical locations. Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods is the most high-profile example to date. Harding says, "all of this reflects that bricks and mortar is still key."

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