Turning Web Research into Foot Traffic
Over the past several years, as consumers have come to rely more on the Internet for information and shopping, it’s been a challenge for retailers to find the best recipe for attracting customers via the web. Working for a company that’s grown from a consumer direct audio brand to a hybrid direct and retail sales model, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how people use the Internet to make purchases. It’s easy to make the assumption that people researching products online are always buying online, but in reality, it’s far more complicated.
“Showrooming,” the process of researching a product in-store and then buying it online, has been lamented and portrayed as a threat to brick-and-mortar sales for many years. Showrooming certainly exists and has certainly changed how retail works, but emerging data shows us it is just part of the buying experience, which should give us all a reason to be optimistic.
What I see growing is the concept called “webrooming.” This describes the majority of shoppers who research products online and use that information to make an in-store purchase based on price, proximity and any other number of factors. In reality, this is happening on a much bigger scale than showrooming. In fact, one of the more interesting analyst reports I’ve read stated that roughly 90 percent of consumer electronics purchases begin on the Internet, yet just between 35 percent and 45 percent of CE purchases are consummated on the Internet. That leaves a lot of people who buy through brick-and-mortar, and it creates new multi-channel opportunities.
Web-savvy consumers (and let’s face it, with smartphones, work computers, personal tablets, etc., that’s most of the population) are far more likely to research the finish, features, price and read a few reviews about a product before ever stepping into a store. This applies even more for big purchases. To a web-conditioned shopper, having too many choices, no price comparisons and a lack of outside reviews can be paralyzing. The research is done ahead of time. The in-store experience is about validating all of their research in person. They’re excited and educated about the product and just need that final experience to confirm what they already know.
When an educated and motivated customer walks through your door, it’s a matter of nurturing the momentum that brought them in and capitalizing on their impulse to buy. After all, no one wants to wait for shipping. Sometimes they just want a face-to-face with a salesperson, but more than likely they want a demo. The art of creating compelling in-store experiences has been abandoned by many (that’s a column for another day), but it behooves you to deliver a killer demo to this customer, if at all possible. It’s also important to acknowledge the customer’s research, price awareness and general knowledge, because they are seeking validation more than a recommendation. Your opinion does matter, but people generally trust online reviews over conversations with salespeople.
To get people off their screens and in the door, you need to think strategically about your online presence. You think first think about the brands you work with and whether they are generating their own interest. Vendor partners that are not committed to building their own brands via the Internet can’t be expected to help you do the same.
If ecommerce is not part of your sales model, that’s OK, but it’s important to be thinking of how to use online tools to seamlessly hand off consumers from the Internet to the in-store experience. At SVS, one of the most important marketing tactics we employ is to analyze how consumers are researching online so we can take advantage of that behavior. We take what people are already searching, liking and talking about and learn from it, rather than develop an approach based on what we think might work. Focus groups used to cost a lot of money and give questionable results; now you can gather valuable data on consumers every time they visit your website or post on social media. That’s powerful.
The list is endless, but some of the immediate things you can do to capitalize on webrooming include: optimizing your website for local searches with geographic, category and brand keywords, claiming your listings on review sites like Yelp and Google Local, and investing in AdWords to amplify your presence in the Local Shopping listings. It should also become standard practice to reply immediately to email and social media queries – be the helpful option the shopper wants.
The Internet continues to weave itself deeper into the fabric of our everyday lives and customers are smarter and more connected because of it. The days of a blank-slate shopper walking into your store and asking for the best AV receiver and surround sound speaker system you have are dying. Fortunately, the Internet allows us to reach more customers for less money than ever before. Shoppers have their phones and are ready to buy; it’s time to answer the call.