The power of ROPO: the new reality for retailers

Many of us have experienced the joys of buying a new sofa. My wife and I did hours of research online to find a toddler-proof three-seater, which suited our lounge, and had great customer reviews. As well as scouring their websites, we spent a couple of weekends visiting furniture retailers to make sure the sofas on our shortlist lived up to their reviews.

It turns out that we are not the only ones to research products and services online before purchasing them in-store. Salesforce’s Connected Shopper report confirmed this suspicion, finding that 79% of customers conduct online research before buying. This increasing popular trend, dubbed ROPO (research online, purchase offline), is corroborated by Forrester research, indicating that 92% of all in-store purchases are researched online first.

ROPO is a two-way street: once in-store, customers often reach for their phones to inform their final purchase decision. Our research found that 50% of all eCommerce activity tracks back to in-store customers, so closing the online-offline gap is critical for retailers pursuing data-driven, omni-channel marketing strategies. This is paramount to ensure that retailers use ROPO to boost sales, but also to enhance the customer experience (CX) by adopting a truly data-driven approach.

When two worlds collide

A unified view of digital and physical operations enables retailers to create a truly unique and memorable CX both on and offline. This not only requires a deep understanding of customer behaviour at point of sale, but also connecting together the disparate data sources from all areas of the business, including the supply chain. One example I frequently refer to is Click & Collect. Without a truly unified approach, in-store pickup can have a negative impact, as in many stores the process is often not as simple and efficient as it should be. Cross-channel processes need to be just as straightforward as any other in-store interaction.

Another hugely convenient service is enabling in-store staff to order out-of-stock products online or from another store and deliver them to the customer’s home. This requires a seamless connection between the store systems and the databases which keep track of stock in regional distribution centres to avoid delayed delivery or delivering wrong items.

It’s all about blending

The benefits of ROPO can be maximised by listening to online and offline customer signals. Brands need to take advantage of the many tools that can provide valuable insights by analysing interactions and activity at various points in the customer journey. Marketers can use these insights to create highly personalised content around online and in-store promotions.

In response to the high proportion of shoppers using their smartphones to research, price-check and even buy products in-store, retailers are using technology to inform marketing strategies and channel in-store business. One such approach is sharing geo-specific online bestsellers in relevant local stores.

Harnessing technology

The most forward-thinking brands are harnessing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the shopping experience for the new connected customer.

AI is creating more ways for retailers to reach shoppers with predictive and personalised messages based on their implicit and explicit behaviour. And with every customer interaction, the algorithms get smarter. This automated process can generate highly personalised recommendations that have been proven to drive sales. During Cyber Week 2017, Salesforce found that although product recommendations made up just 5% of clicks, they generated 30% of revenue for that crucial retail week.

Other technologies like in-store beacons are becoming more popular, tracking when shoppers follow up online searches with visits to their local store. This is adding immense value with timely and personalised messages relevant to shoppers and their in-store experience.

Smarter shopping journeys

Millennials are particularly attracted by these types of smarter shopping journeys. Over a third (35%) say the ability to search merchandise in a physical store or online catalogue using an image is appealing. They also want to receive product recommendations based on the attributes of that image. The common thread here is convenience. Whether it's through search, an Instagram post or browsing in-store, shoppers are looking for the fastest way to get the information and service they need.

The presence of customers in both the digital and physical worlds means retailers who are focussed on in-store success are embracing the benefits of an online presence. To succeed in the new retail reality, brands need a seamless strategy to deliver unified retail approaches. The next time I go out looking to buy a new sofa, wouldn't it be nice if the store assistant shows me exactly what I was looking at online and then enhances the experience with intuitively generated recommendations for matching cushions? I, for one, am ready for the unified shopping experience of the future.