It’s hard to imagine a more challenging environment for marketers than the current moment. With a global pandemic affecting the way nearly everyone in the world works and lives, nothing feels certain anymore. And even the uncertainties are shifting rapidly.
While some might say that the rise of digital has made the role of the local retail store obsolete, new research from Google suggests that the relationship between digital and in-store shopping is far more nuanced and interconnected than that. In gaining an understanding of the impact of digital on in-store shopping, we were able to debunk three common retail myths. We also identified ways retailers can use digital more effectively to connect with consumers. With two in three consumers not finding the information they need in-store and 43% then leaving frustrated, digital presents an opportunity for retailers to improve the in-store shopping experience.
The retail industry is undergoing a dramatic shift: In-store foot traffic is down, online research is up and smartphones are becoming increasingly important to the consumer’s in-store shopping journey. Here we debunk three common myths associated with the impact of digital on in-store shopping. We’ll also highlight how consumers’ digital behavior affects—and in fact, helps—retail stores today.
Myth #1: Search results only send consumers to e-commerce sites.
The Reality: Search results are also a powerful way to drive consumers to stores.
A common myth is that as a result of searching online, shoppers will only visit e-commerce sites. In reality, three out of four shoppers who find local information in search results helpful are more likely to visit stores. The lesson for retailers here is simple: Digital is a powerful way to connect consumers with stores.
Myth #2: Once in-store consumers start looking at their smartphone, the retailer loses their attention.
The Reality: Retailers can grab consumers’ attention through search results and their mobile site or app.
Digital is transforming the in-store experience for customers. Our study shows that 42% of in-store shoppers search for information online while in-store. For the most part, they’re using search engines (64%). However, almost half of shoppers head to the retailer’s own site or app. Only 30% will look up details from a different retailer’s web site or app. This presents a powerful opportunity for retailers to connect with consumers—and prevent them from turning to the competition.
Retailers can use their online presence—website, apps, mobile ads and search results—to assist shoppers in-store. This includes the integration of local information in their online presence. Geo-targeting content and ads helps retailers connect with shoppers who may be in close proximity to their store or already there.
Myth #3: Online research has lowered consumers’ expectations of stores; they really just go to a store to transact.
The Reality: Consumers visit stores for more than just a purchase, and their expectations of retailers are higher than before. They’re looking for an informative, customized experience.
Some retailers fear that today’s consumers are so well informed before they step into a store that the shop itself has become nothing but a playground for a quick transaction. In fact, people are visiting stores throughout their purchase journey—even before making a purchase. Thirty-two percent of shoppers visit stores when they’re first thinking about a purchase, and 33% actively research in stores to find out more about a potential purchase.
The consumer path to purchase is becoming increasingly mobile. Retailers that provide relevant, local information via search and online presence (mobile app and site) will increase both reach and engagement. Digital has fundamentally reshaped the shopping journey—in a good way—and savvy retailers who make use of it to attract and engage consumers will find themselves ahead of the competition.
The relationship between digital and local stores is changing. Google found three new realities of retail: digital drives in-store traffic; smartphones are in-store shopping assistants and varied shopping habits call for a holistic approach to measuring retail success. Savvy retailers are learning how to reach customers by better connecting the online to the offline and by caring less about where a sale happens and more about how to help shoppers convert.
New reality #1: Digital drives in-store traffic
As it turns out, digital doesn’t just drive e-commerce. It actually gets consumers into local stores. A 2014 study on local search behavior found that 50% of consumers will visit a store within one day of a local search on their smartphone. Scott Zalaznik, Sprint’s vice president of digital, has seen digital’s influence on offline shopping firsthand: “Ninety percent of our customers start their journey online but buy in-store.”
New reality #2: Smartphones are in-store shopping assistants
Thanks to our constantly connected world, we’ve become accustomed to instantaneous answers and a wealth of information at our fingertips, but not all retailers have translated this well into in-store experiences. Shoppers are increasingly frustrated by the lack of in-store information. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they couldn’t find the details they needed while visiting a store. Many, as a result, are turning to their smartphone to fill in the information gap. Of the 42% who research online while in stores, almost half use the retailer’s own site or app. And one in three shoppers actually prefer to use their smartphone to find additional information rather than ask a store employee for help.
New reality #3: Omnichannel shopping calls for omnichannel measurement
Though shopping habits have changed drastically, retailers haven’t necessarily caught up in the ways they measure their marketing efforts and allocate their media spend. Most retailers don’t yet understand the extent to which digital drives in-store transactions and how in-store visits affect online purchases. The result is that they’re often viewing sales in silos and undervaluing the real impact of their digital spend on total sales. Consequently, they’re making suboptimal decisions about their media mix.
Macys.com’s Serena Potter says the brand has placed a special focus on understanding just how much of local business sales come from digital searches. “We’ve been able to show that for every dollar we invest in search, we drive $6 of sales in-store,” she says.
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