The increasing growth in the mobile web and people’s access to fast internet when they are on the move and at home is blurring the lines between online and offline purchasing. Despite the fact that 91% of UK retail sales still occur in store, 40% of UK buyers research online and then purchase offline (ROPO) – with many sectors considerably higher. What’s more, people will continue to research on their mobile while in store – 21% of smartphone users who use their mobile in store have changed their mind about a purchase, while 33% of people have found the store they’re looking for via their mobile.
If this ROPO effect is not going to go away, what can advertisers do not only to quantify the effect in their market but also to take advantage?
There are innumerable ways of linking channels, but some of the ways retailers can start thinking about a multi-channel approach are:
Test and test again
In 2011 Carat and Vodafone carried out experiments to evaluate the effectiveness of search beyond looking only at online sales. The hypothesis was that there was a significant amount of sales delivered beyond online in retail. A trial was developed in a traditional test-and-control framework that was designed for ongoing evaluation of search in the context of retail sales.
The eight-week long test showed that search drove 2.9% uplift in retail sales. Put another way, for every online sale attributed to search, an additional seven sales were made in store.
The test confirmed not only the hypothesis, but backed up previous Google research that showed search plays an important part beyond just delivering online sales. The findings now more accurately attribute what search delivers, which in turn helps to form and build future business cases.
I would suggest that without a structured framework for testing and re-testing, any attribution or multi-channel strategies will struggle to be proven successful.
Help people find you
Building on proving links from online to offline, during 2011 Vodafone built a store locator – now 6% of all traffic across all devices goes there. That 6% increase in traffic was people who would previously have struggled to find the store they were looking for and may have been tempted away by an easier experience elsewhere. If building a full store-finder section on the main website is, for whatever reason, cost-prohibitive, then the free alternative in Google Places should be kept fully updated and built-out at the very least. Every store’s Google Places page can be customised to include everything from opening times to special in-store offers.
Clearly some customers, if they struggle to find the store, may convert on the online site instead, or may find their way into your store via some other channel, but by making it easy for the customer you’re increasing the likelihood of conversion. Added to this, given online is far easier to track than say, a Yellow Pages, you can start to add in metrics such as store locator requests, map dwell time and store phone calls to your measures of online success.
Tie ads to locations
Running experiments and building store finders can be altered to whichever platform customers are using. It is, however, important to note the significance of mobile when looking at multi-channel activity. Mobile is the glue which bonds on and offline. As mentioned before there are multiple stats to show how people use their mobile when out and about and as such it is key that any advertiser interacts with them in the right way to maximize sales. There are any number of ways to “do” mobile, but from a multichannel standpoint, the most important thing is to link ads to your locations, making customers feel like there is a local sense to the ad – this can be as simple as adding Location extensions to PPC ads which, when clicked upon, give the user directions to their nearest branch.
Further to this, Google’s brand new “Proximity Bidding” allows advertisers to increase bids based on the distance the user is from a set location. While still in beta form, it’s unclear exactly how advertisers will make best use of it, but it’s easy to see that there could be efficiencies gained from making ads more prominent when customers are close to your store, and less so in areas where a store is not a viable option.
Give something (trackable) back
Another new product from Google to help trace online to offline journeys is Offer Extensions. For the uninitiated, Offer Extensions give advertisers the opportunity to surface special offers as a link under their PPC ads that the user can then print and take into store. As well as all of the customer benefits any offer will have on sales, this mechanic allows advertisers to track the online/offline interaction of their customers. At this stage the offers cannot be made unique to the user, i.e you can’t tie sales to specific ads or data capture, but if used in a controlled manner, they can give advertisers an understanding of the size of the audience searching online, seeing a specific offer and then purchasing offline.
Offer Extension ads also have the potential to show advertisers which type of offers are likely to lead to in-store sales. As mentioned before, running multiple tests will produce lessons in everything including which offers, prices and messaging drive in-store sales, to the latency and geographic impacts of the offers. This information can be used to inform future offers and ad copy.
There are many more strategies that can be built to help link online and offline, but overall they all come down to a unifying strand – the activity needs to be viewed as multi-channel. We are in the early days of cross-media attribution modeling finally becoming a useful tool, and econometric models will continue to be an industry standard for measurement, but if any advertiser truly wants to make the most of people researching online and purchasing off, they need to focus on driving sales through any channel, not separating them. With a few of the steps discussed above, this can become a manageable reality.