"With online research driving billions of in-store sales, companies need to capitalize on this consumer behavior." Alton Adams, Principal at KPMG in the US
Why does London tailor Archer Adams have a branded black cab customers can book to take them to the store? Because the company wants to get customers who are browsing online through the doors of its shop. It’s a smart move, because people who research online and buy offline (ROBO) spend three to five times more than when they shop through the website, according to research by IDC Retail Insights. When Macy’s, a major US department-store chain, introduced its new e-commerce platform in 2010, the website generated a US$1 billion rise in online sales, and influenced more than US$5 billion on in-store sales improvements in its first year.
The percentage of consumers choosing to ROBO depends on the product, the consumer’s age, and how urgently the item is required. GE Capital Retail Bank’s 2013 survey of consumers who spent US$500 or more on a purchase discovered that 81% researched online before visiting a store – up 20% on 2012 – and spent an average of 79 days gathering data before buying.
Regardless of location or age, consumers are becoming more pragmatic when buying, but this behavior is especially prevalent among the urban young, who are particularly comfortable with online and mobile technology.
Comparing products online is simpler and faster than in a mall. It empowers consumers to decide which stores they might buy from, and identify stores offering good deals. The easier it is for consumers to find your brand and products online, the more likely they are to buy. This sounds obvious, but some retailers are struggling to master e-commerce.
Simply being online isn’t enough. Consumers expect certain functions – logical navigation, easy checkout, fast shipping and free returns – and will go elsewhere if they’re not satisfied. As GE Capital’s survey suggests that 88% of consumers who started researching purchases online via search engines went on to buy in store, this is a multi-billion dollar opportunity.
Collecting information from consumers online is relatively easy. The challenge is to understand the relationship between online research and offline purchases. If someone walks into your store and buys a product, they won’t tell you they did an hour’s research beforehand. Surveys, loyalty programs and promotions can all help brands and stores better understand omnichannel retail.
Retailers are already rewarding ROBO shoppers who visit their stores. Start-up app Shopkick has partnered with Visa and brands such as Target to offer customers points that can be exchanged for rewards. Many European retailers – selling goods as diverse as books, food and computer games – encourage customers to order online and collect from nearby stores.
Consumers will want to experience some products – such as clothing, footwear and furniture – first hand, so ROBO isn’t going away. That’s why some pure-play e-tailers have opened physical stores as marketing tools. Expect multi-channel retailers to recognize that bricks-and-mortar stores are far more than places to sell stock: they are the perfect places to launch products, raise brand awareness, and excite consumers about goods and services.