3 Ways Brick-and-Mortar Stores Can Win at Webrooming

There is no stopping the rise of online shopping. The product options are endless, it’s simple, more convenient, often cost-efficient—and the list goes on. It’s no shock that ecommerce has been lauded the future of retail, reaching $1.5 trillion in sales in 2014. Naturally, brick-and-mortar sales have been threatened, but not how one may think.

Several years ago, retailers started to witness “showrooming,” where customers research items in-store, only to then go online and buy. Conveniently for brick and mortar stores, retailers are now seeing the reversal of the early showrooming trend. Data from a new Criteo survey finds that at least 10-15 percent of in-store sales are attributed to a newer trend called “webrooming,” where shoppers gather information online then go to a brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase. Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru put a dollar value to this trend, estimating that webrooming will result in $1.8 trillion in sales by 2018.

While retailers must deal with the implications of both new paths to purchase, webrooming is emerging as the stronger trend, creating an opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to not only maintain – but also increase – sales as the e-commerce market continues to climb. In order to succeed, brick-and-mortar retailers need to take advantage of the evolving channels customers are using to research and shop by engaging with shoppers online to maximize sales.

Here are three online strategies for brick-and-mortar retailers to engage with customers before, during and after they are in-store to drive sales – before the competition does:

Provide Information Online to Drive In-Store Sales

The age of the empowered and informed customer is here. Customers are shopping with purpose – they’ve done their research, they know what they want and they know where to go for the best price before they even step foot into a store.

Although many retailers don’t offer a seamless omnichannel experience or turn to online marketing to impact in-store purchases, about half of customers believe online and mobile ads are useful in learning about products and prices available in-store. As webrooming continues to grow in popularity, brick-and-mortar marketers must leverage personalized online advertising just as much as their e-commerce counterparts in order to get customers in their stores.

Personalized online ads give brick-and-mortar retailers an opportunity to influence the customers’ path-to-purchase. By using data collected across customer touchpoints (i.e. e-mails, social media and package inserts) retailers can provide customers with content relevant to them and their individual interests. Information can include everything from product details and pricing to reviews, coupons and in-store availability – key interest areas that would drive customers to a physical store. Ikea recently saw success applying this approach when it turned to targeted Facebook ads in order to increase store visits for one of its locations by 31%.

Use Beacons and Wi-Fi to Convert Visitors into Buyers

Webrooming isn’t only occurring on desktops. More than 40% of shoppers look for offers on their mobile devices while in-store, creating yet another touch point through which retailers can influencer a customer’s purchase intent.

Beacons have become a brick-and-mortar retailer’s golden ticket. The technology allows retailers to connect with in-store webroomers and provide a level of personalization that competes with online merchants. Using Bluetooth technology, beacons communicate with customers’ smartphones to improve the in-store shopping experience and, ultimately, drive them to purchase. With beacons, retailers can deliver targeted information such as ads, coupons or specific products. They can also direct shoppers to a particular aisle or section of the store or reward loyal customers upon their entrance to the store.

With 44% of all age groups reporting that the availability of in-store Wi-Fi influences where they shop, offering free Wi-Fi is another way to enable in-store webroomers that may not want to opt-in to beacons via Bluetooth. For example, upon launching free Wi-Fi in its stores, Target found that Target.com was by the far the most-accessed site by customers while shopping in-store. Providing Wi-Fi also improves conversions – 70%  of online searches for products from mobile devices convert into a purchase within the hour.

Leverage In-Store Data After a Customer Leaves

Once shoppers leave, information collected on how they maneuver through stores can help brick-and-mortar retailers better segment their audiences and re-engage customers once they’re back online. If a shopper is connected to a beacon or Wi-Fi and researches a pair of Nike sneakers in-store, but doesn’t purchase them, there’s an opportunity for the retailer to retarget the shopper with coupons, price discounts or similar products to prompt the customer to come back and make a purchase.

Information collected from customers in-store, whether through beacons, a point-of-sale system or social media interaction, also helps brick-and-mortar retailers understand whether their online ads are driving in-store traffic. Google and Facebook have already begun using “hashing” to track offline store visits back to online ad exposure to gauge retailers’ effectiveness in bridging the online and offline worlds.

While the relationship between online and brick-and-mortar shopping is becoming increasingly interconnected, retailers’ omnichannel experience is lagging behind customers’ expectations. A recent study found that the majority of customers think integrating in-store, online and mobile is the number one area where retailers can improve the shopping experience. With 88%  of customers regularly webrooming, brick-and-mortar stores need to make an effort to bridge the online and offline worlds by engaging with customers before, during and after they’re in-store. Or, risk losing potential sales.

James Smith is EVP of Americas, Criteo

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