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Customers want to make informed decisions.
In fact, 88% of shoppers research online before making a purchase.
This customer behavior, known as ROPO (research online, purchase offline) presents a HUGE opportunity in eCommerce. This post will break down exactly what ROPO means, and 9 strategies you can use to take advantage of the ROPO effect.
What Does ROPO Mean?
ROPO stands for Research Online, Purchase Offline. It refers to a documented customer behavior where customers consult online sources such as reviews, eCommerce stores, and expert opinions before purchasing in-store.
ROPO Effect 2018: Stats that show online's effect IRL
Understanding the ROPO effect is like putting together a puzzle.
At first, it seems strange that customers wouldn't complete their purchase in one place - whether online or in-store.
But when all the pieces are together, it is obvious why customers research digitally and purchase in-person.
The Internet has become essential for research
In 2018, Americans look to the internet as a first point of reference. According to Google, 78% of people in the United States look to the internet first when they need to research something.
A further 53% actually prefer to do a task digitally if able.
We see similar figures reported from inside the retail industry itself. According to a panel of 250 retail executives with sales over $100M, 82% say that their customers research online.
Smartphones are Changing How We Shop
Smartphones have ignited internet adoption in all areas of life - including evaluating and shopping for products.
Google surveyed consumers and asked a simple question: Which of these did you do on a smartphone in relation to your recent purchase decision?
We see that consumers use smartphones for inspiration (scrolling through social media, flip books, and sites), educated themselves with reviews and articles, compared products across shops and completed purchases.
In another study conducted by DigitasLBi, having a smartphone changed the shopping habits of 49% of respondents.
Consumes have always depended on social proof to make purchase decisions. Today, that social proof is online. Yet, brick and mortar still matters.
Brick & Mortar Matters
It is easy to overlook how dominant brick and mortar stores still are.
90% of all sales in the United States still occur face to face.
In fact, while eCommerce is outpacing physical stores in growth rate by an impressive 13.5% (17% vs 3.5%), physical stores are growing an absurd amount more in aggregate sales volume.
That 17% eCommerce growth rate was based off of an impressive $38 Billion growth in sales. However, the 3.5% growth in physical stores resulted in an increase of $144 Billion.
Shoppers Depend on Reviews
Customers are using the internet to research all types of local businesses.
The most common way consumers do this is through online reviews.
While the most popular categories for reviews remain food and beverage, retail stores including clothing, hair/beauty, and grocery all had increased review usage rates.
Customers Use the Internet to Shop Locally
In Bright Local's Local Consumer Review Survey 2017, they found a number of interesting stats.
97% of consumers looked online to find a local business.
12% use the internet everyday to find local businesses.
In other words, internet research is pervasive, and omnichannel strategies need to be considered for all types of businesses.
Customers Research Online Before Shopping In-Store
Our own study on omni-channel behavior revealed that shoppers specifically consult the internet before venturing out to purchase a product.
21% browse online all the time before buying in-store.
71% browse online some of the time before they go to a physical store.
Meanwhile, only 8% of respondents said that they never research online before purchasing offline.
Customers Research Online while In-Store
Aided by smartphones, shoppers more than ever are using the internet while physically inside a store.
It is reported that online behavior influences 56% of all sales made in-store.
The bottom line is this: retailers need to adopt an omnichannel approach that integrates mobile and physical locations. Without being proactive, shoppers are more likely to take matters in their own hands and visit competitor sites.
Why Customers (still) Prefer Physical Stores
There are many reasons why customers are still making most of their purchases in-store, but the two most common are related to trying the product first and shipping.
Customers Want to Try Items First
Wanting to physically touch products are the most cited reasons for preferring physical stores.
Customers Hate Shipping
Shipping continues to be a big hurdle for eCommerce stores, and is the second driving factor for customers preferring to shop in physical locations.
This isn't much of a surprise.
Shipping issues contribute three of the top 10 reasons for cart abandonment (including the top reason of unexpected shipping costs).
There are significant challenges in creating effective ROPO marketing strategies.
The biggest challenge is tracking.
Tracking online conversions is easy. Unfortunately, tracking offline conversions that originate online is not.
Creating solid attribution techniques, and connecting your data across channels are the biggest challenges in creating effective ROPO strategies.
ROPO Marketing Strategies & Tactics
We've demonstrated that customers increasingly use the internet to guide in-store purchase decisions.
Below are several techniques eCommerce stores are using to capitalize on the ROPO consumer behavior.
Strategies to Increase eCommerce Conversion
We've covered in detail how to create effective cart abandonment strategies here.
However, beyond cart abandonment, there are a number of strategies you can put in place to position your store well during the research phase.
Personalize Digital Touchpoints Based on In-Store Actions
You should personalize digital touch points with information you gather in-store.
A great example is cart abandonment campaigns. Normally, you would followup with customers if they did not complete their purchase on-site.
Software like Barilliance can recognize that customers bought the items they were researching online in-store, and pause cart abandonment emails and instead initiate a post-purchase campaign.
Create Research Aids
ROPO demonstrates that your customers are researching online.
One of the best things you can do is provide value ahead of time by creating free guides that position your products well.
Above we see an example page set up by Chubbies. Notice in the top right they directly address the two main reasons for ROPO.
Free Three Day Shipping
Free Returns & Fit Guarntee
The page goes on to call out several different gift types including
Along with a bunch of other specific call outs to help customers make the right choice.
Strategies to Track ROPO ROI
Tracking customers across digital and non-digital channels remains a major challenge.
However, investing time and thought into how you will attribute sales is important. Without measuring your digital marketing's effect on in-store purchases, you can't measure the true ROI of some of the most important marketing channels of 2018, including Facebook ads, Google AdWords, and your site's newsletter.
Connect CRM and POS with Loyalty Cards
One of the simplest ways to track customers across all channels is to use loyalty cards.
Customers are accustomed to sharing all the details you need including name, email, phone numbers, and even birthdays.
Once you have that data, you can pair it up with your online marketing to create personal, relevant campaigns for specific customer segments.
Powerful Segmentation: Use RFM Analysis to quickly identify your most profitable customer segments including your most loyal, your highest paying, and even at-risk customers.
Check out our full guide (no opt-in) here.
Measure Facebook Ads ROPO Effect
Facebook recently launched a new feature that allows marketers to measure their effect on in-store purchases.
As Facebook explains, "With offline conversion measurement capabilities on Facebook, you can track when transactions occur in your physical business location and other offline channels after people see or engage with your Facebook ads."
How it works
The goal is to match customer data to Facebook accounts, and then see if those accounts engaged with your ads in the last 24 hours, 7 or 28 days.
The most common data to match is:
The folks at Wolfgang Digital did a great break down on the steps required to setup offline tracking. You can see their detailed step by step walk-through here.
Strategies to Build Trust & Remove Risk (desire to try products, etc.)
Create Online Fit Tests
One contributing reason for the ROPO effect is customer's desire to guarantee fit.
You can increase the customer experience and confidence by creating fit quizzes. This is especially important for clothing, where fit directly impacts comfortability and look.
Use Augmented Reality to Decrease Risk
Another way to address customer concerns is through augmented reality.
Ikea is a great example.
Whereas before customers wanted to physically go the store to get a sense of the size, they can now easily visualize how their new furniture will fit in their space with the IKEA place app.
Customers can browse through thousands of items, select which one they want, and place it right in their living room.
Strategies to Build Your Online Reputation
Focus Your Reviews
Your customers are likely to review you and your products on only one platform.
To succeed, you need to select which platform makes the most sense for you to aggregate reviews on first. Typically, Google and your distribution point (your site, Amazon, etc.) will be the two you should focus on first.
Build Positive Reviews
There are many ways to build online reviews for your site.
Respond to Negative Reviews
While consumers are increasingly valuing positive reviews more than negative reviews, you still need an active, genuine response to negative reviews.
It is best to speak in your brand's voice, make right with the customer, and clarify the situation.
Avoid Looking Like a Cheat
Unfortunately, many people create fake reviews.
To avoid being penalized, it is best to set up links within your site that will redirect the visitor the the proper review platform.
-> Never use an API to gather reviews. Review sites can tell, and it will look suspicious if your reviews come from the same source.
->Don't solicit reviews on premise. Again, if customers leave reviews while logged onto your wi-fi, it can appear that you are spamming positive reviews.
Once you implement ROPO marketing strategies, you will be able to better attribute sales to marketing channels.
Reoptimizing your ad spend is the first step.
After that, realize that you have a huge opportunity to engage customers both before they purchase (by creating guides and tools) and after purchase (through personalized, 1 to 1 after sales emails).
We've written two key guides to help you execute these next steps.
If you want to see how we help hundreds of eCommerce stores connect their online and offline channels, you can speak with an expert here.