In the modern retail landscape, digital is no longer a threat to the in-store shopping experience. In fact, smart retailers have come to see e-commerce as a tool to boost in-store foot traffic. This represents a new phenomenon called ROPO (research online, purchase offline), where consumers start their shopping journeys online but complete them in-store.
This is a strategy used by 82% of consumers, according to Retail Customer Experience. Because of this, experts stress how important it is for retailers to have a strong presence in both physical and digital environments.
ROPO reverses the long-standing retail-killing phenomenon known as showrooming when consumers visit brick-and-mortar stores to find or learn about products and then go online to buy them. ROPO, also called web-rooming, is the flip side of this process. But it’s not the only way that the different retail styles are coming together. There are many emerging scenarios for blending online and in-store shopping and purchase, says Deborah Goldring, an associate professor of marketing at Stetson University in Florida. One of the other more popular ones is POPI (purchase online/pickup in-store).
Retailers operating physical stores “can offer a guided experience from online shopping and online purchase to a convenient pickup service either in-store or curbside,” Goldring says.
Digital marketing tactics can definitely enhance this experience, she says, and could include such things as “text messages, push notifications, emails, or QR codes, as well as easy instructions about where to park, where to drive through, or where to pick up in the store.”
Anna Brettle, co-founder and business development director at Stellar Global, a company that specializes in retail experiences and in-store demonstrations, agrees. “It’s crucial to have some sort of digital presence available that communicates offers to potential customers. Information such as product portfolio, promotions and product demonstrations, opening times, directions, and options for online reservations will enhance the customer journey and encourage customers to visit your physical store,” she says. “My top tip for utilizing the ROPO effect would be to make sure a brand or retailer has a strong online presence, whether that’s an online store or social media channels.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have primarily been focusing on digital practices such as virtual product demonstrations and online masterclasses to replace the in-store experiences that were lost to social distancing.
Importantly, as retailers seek to interact with consumers during and after the pandemic, it’s critical to understand their needs, issues, and concerns and address them. It’s really all about thinking of the questions that consumers might have and taking steps to provide answers to those questions seamlessly, while simultaneously providing compelling reasons for consumers to take the difficult step of walking into a brick-and-mortar location. That is understandably a huge challenge. Yet there is evidence to suggest that, even during the pandemic, as retailers in many states begin to open up for in-person interactions, some consumers are ready to venture out into the real world.
CONSUMERS CRAVE PHYSICAL INTERACTIONS
Recent research by CodeBroker, a mobile marketing solutions provider, found that 65% of consumers are shopping more at Amazon and less at their favourite stores. At the same time, 75% say that mobile coupons and special offers could bring them back inside their favorite shopping destinations. In addition, 53 % say that as their favorite stores start to reopen, they would consider shopping at physical locations. Among those not planning to do so, 61% say that high-value mobile or digital coupons for in-store visits would prompt them to shop at physical locations.
“Downloadable mobile coupons and online loyalty programs are by far one of the best ways to push traffic from online to brick-and-mortar,” says Matt Tuffuor, cofounder of Toasted Life, a provider of dynamic events and experiences for companies. “These programs can help track purchasing patterns on a very granular level and help you track the success of concurrent campaigns.” And they confer other advantages, he adds: “Since these offers are distributed digitally, they can also be dynamically updated and personalized. A user’s purchasing behaviour and geo info can even be leveraged, which helps drive effective results and a stronger ROI.”
Consumers are also drawn to physical locations to allow them to see and touch products before making purchase decisions. Stellar Global’s research found that 59% of consumers would not buy products costing more than about $325 without testing them and understanding how they work firsthand, Brettle says.
Once customers test the product, the odds are good that they will make a positive purchase decision, she says. “Our survey found that eight out of 10 will buy once they’ve tried a product firsthand.”
Goldring agrees that in-store interactions can boost sales for retailers.
“The good news is that shoppers who visit stores are there to buy, not browse,” she states. “And while they may be visiting less often due to COVID concerns, they are spending more per trip than prior to the epidemic.”
It’s important, though, to clearly and frequently communicate with consumers about what they should expect from the in-store experience, both in terms of product offerings and personal safety.
Especially as the pandemic unfolds, ebbing and flowing across the country, retailers need to modify their business models, processes, and practices. “Because of COVID, physical stores now perform several functions,” including showrooms and distribution centres in addition to traditional retail outlets, Goldring says. “That means stores have had to quickly redesign their spaces with separate areas for in-store merchandise, picking up or returning purchases, and browsing online in the store for a ship-to-home experience.”