Having both an online and offline presence is becoming more and more important for brands: Rather than shop via one channel only, 73 percent of customers prefer a multichannel approach to shopping. Because of this, retailers are focusing less on choosing between an eCommerce store and a physical retail store and are instead focusing on how to adjust the customer experience to suit both channels.

We surveyed 250 consumers about their online and in-store buying habits and about what decisions they make during their purchase journeys. We found that customers are increasingly engaging in “research online, purchase offline” (ROPO) behavior, i.e., looking up information about products online but completing their purchases in-store.

Because of the rise in this purchasing behavior, altering online and in-store customer experiences to suit customer intent is paramount to retaining customers. Customers simply want different things from each channel, which is why retailers must adopt an omnichannel strategy.

Businesses need to build their brand both online and offline. Those that don’t embrace strong omnichannel strategies risk an opportunity cost of 10 percent in lost revenue. To help you avoid that cost, we’ll go through the challenges to online and offline retailers and recommend how to tackle each.

 

Key Findings

  • Almost 29 percent of consumers prefer to research products online and buy them later in a physical store. Only 7.5 percent prefer the reverse—to research products in physical stores and buy them later online.
  • Only 10.5 percent of consumers prefer to both research and buy products in physical stores, and most consumers still prefer online shopping
  • Preferences aside, nearly 37 percent of consumers say they make fewer than 25 percent of their purchases by researching online and buying offline.
  • For 50 percent of consumers, the ability to read reviews of products before making in-store purchases is the main factor contributing to their ROPO behavior.

Consumers still do most of their product research online

Consumers overwhelmingly prefer researching and buying products online (53.1 percent), but a significant portion of shoppers (28.9 percent) prefer researching online and buying offline. Only 18 percent of consumers say they prefer to research products in physical stores.

Chart: Do you prefer buying online or in store?

When asked about why customers research products online before purchasing them offline, the overwhelming response was the presence of customer reviews, followed by the ability to compare prices across multiple retailers. Research also suggests that customers want to see more in-store access to customer reviews.

Chart: Why do you research products online before buying offline?

Only 7.5 percent of respondents prefer researching products in-store and then buying later online—also known as showrooming. Though this number is low, physical retailers should still be concerned: The key thing to remember is that customers aren’t necessarily closing the deal in the same online store.

Shopping online often involves looking at multiple retailers to compare prices and deals—a practice which 29 percent of consumers partake in. What are the chances that your store is the one that closes the deal?

Research online and purchase offline behavior can also hurt online retailers. Its prevalence leads to higher cart-abandonment rates; 17 percent of consumers attribute their cart abandonment to the research process. They had no intention to buy online and were adding items to their cart only in the name of research.

 RECOMMENDED NEXT ACTIONS TO HELP INCREASE IN-STORE PURCHASES: 

  • Create an omnichannel experience in store with tablets or kiosks that display store inventory. This allows customers to research and order products that aren’t in stock right on the spot. Plus, in-store kiosks can increase customer spend by 30 percent.
  • Streamline the decision-making process for customers by equipping employees with handheld inventory management devices so they can help customers make more informed decisions about prices and product comparisons while in-store.
  • Personalize the customer journey in a way that encourages buyers to complete their purchase while in store. POS systems can help personalize the customer journey, capture customer data and preferences, inform loyalty programs, and reduce friction during the purchase journey.

 

 RECOMMENDED NEXT ACTIONS TO HELP INCREASE ONLINE PURCHASES: 

  • You can’t stop your customers going online entirely, but competitor monitoring software can help you set your eCommerce pricing levels according to your competition.
  • Collect and manage customer reviews with reviews management software, which can help you boost your reputation and collect and address customer concerns.

Customers prefer buying online because it’s easy

We asked consumers to identify what makes the customer experience better when researching and buying products online. The most common answer given was that, when buying online, research, payment, and delivery are easier.

Chart: What makes the experience better when shopping online?

It is no surprise that online reviews are the second most important factor making the customer experience better when researching and buying products online. Eighty-five percent of people trust customer reviews as much as they trust a personal recommendation. Even just the presence of online reviews on your website makes customers trust a website more.

Payment for products might be easier online, but cart abandonment rates still stand at around 75 percent, meaning that only 25 percent of started purchasing journeys are completed.

 THERE ARE SEVERAL REASONS WHY YOUR COMPLETED ONLINE PURCHASES OR CONVERSION RATES MAY BE LOW: 

  1. Online retailers experiencing low levels of completed purchases could be pricing their customers out of a purchase or driving them to complete their purchase offline: Around 60 percent of customers abandon a purchase because of high delivery fees.
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  3. We’ve talked extensively about how poor web design hurts your business: 38 percent of people will stop engaging with an unattractive website, which can hurt conversion rates.
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  5. Checkout processes are too complicated or require a sign-up to the business, which stops people continuing down the purchase funnel.

Research online, purchase offline behavior isn’t inherently bad for business

There’s nothing inherently wrong with research online purchase offline behavior as long as you do your best to direct customers to your offline store. This involves thinking critically about omnichannel customer experiences and how technology can drive customers from conducting online research to offline purchases in your store.

Mobile capability for eCommerce sites is a key factor here; not only are customers making more purchases than ever on their mobile devices, but 80 percent of people now use their mobile devices to research price comparisons and customer reviews while shopping in physical stores.

 RECOMMENDED NEXT ACTIONS: 

  • Use A/B testing to determine which areas of your site aren’t driving conversions or to identify areas where visitor drop-off is high.

Customers are researching online and buying offline—but not exclusively

Almost 37 percent of surveyed consumers say they make fewer than 25 percent of their purchases by researching online and purchasing offline, and only 5 percent say they make 75-100 percent of their purchases that way.

How often do you research products online and purchase later in a store?

This indicates that though customers might like researching online and purchasing later in store, they’re not doing so for every purchase. When asked about what products they prefer to research online and buy in store later, electrical items (such as televisions, styling products, and household appliances), electronic items (such as cell phones, computers, and tablets), and clothing come out on top.

What kind of products do you research online but buy offline?

Though some consumers may buy or researching products in physical stores, research shows that over a third of consumers “feel nothing” about their in-store shopping experiences. Retailers that want to stay relevant and attract more customers to their physical stores must consider the next generation of customer: Generation Z is far more likely to embrace new retail concepts such as voice-activated ordering.

Almost two-thirds of consumers also consider in-store staff extremely important to their shopping experience, which demonstrates that while rethinking customer experiences, retailers also need to train staff to be able to become “key elements” within customer purchase journeys.

 RECOMMENDED NEXT ACTIONS: 

  • Adopt customer service tools that can help you manage your customer interactions, measure performance, and identify areas where you can improve your current customer service practices.

What an omnichannel future means for your brand

Our survey shows that customers prefer shopping in different ways for different purchases. But researching products online before eventually buying in-store is becoming more prevalent. It’s up to retailers to address how their offline and online presence is affected by this.

For example, multichannel retailers must consider whether their online stores are fit for the customer research stage. Do they have a multitude of product images, user-generated content including customer reviews, and enough product information?

Technology and software can help retailers achieve a true omnichannel experience for customers, and store owners should take full advantage.


METHODOLOGY

This research is based on a survey of 250 consumer respondents based in the US. The survey was carried out in June 2018 using online survey tools. If you have any questions or would like to get in touch regarding use of the charts above, please contact rhian.davies@getapp.com.