Cashing In on the ROPO Effect [Link Roundup]

Can brick-and-mortar retailers survive the rise of the ecommerce? The answer depends largely on whether brands can adapt to their customers’ new buying strategies. One of the ways brands can do that is by taking advantage of the ROPO effect (research online, purchase offline, or the reverse).


In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of nervous chatter in the retail industry surrounding showrooming–an increasingly popular activity where a smartphone-assisted shopper will size up a physical product in store, often going on to buy it for cheaper online.

But as we’ve covered on this blog, the trend also works in reverse: consumers are using ecommerce sites to research items before they buy them in stores. Dubbed webrooming, this activity is already driving retail sales in some quarters. And as we’ll explore, brick-and-mortar shops who harness this trend could offset some of the disruptive consequences of ecommerce.

Below, we’ve corralled some links that will help you understand how webrooming works, why it could be revitalizing to in-store retail, and how a smarter omnichannel content approach could help your brand reap benefits.

The Narrowing Digital Divide: Background

In the ever-accelerating dash towards faster ecommerce and shinier digital gadgetry, you could easily get the impression that brick-and-mortar stores are entering their cultural twilight. The data seems to confirm it: in-store retail sales are slumping, and the slump will only deepen as shoppers becomes more Internet savvy. Meanwhile, the number of digital shoppers in the US continues to swell:

Retailers Look for Digital Magic as In-Store Sales Decline – The Wall Street Journal

Online Shopping by the Numbers [Infographic] – Forbes

Extrapolate on these trends, and it isn’t too hard to imagine a future where physical stores are viewed as little more than an antique curiosity – much like typewriters, VHS tapes, or any number of other bygone analog technologies.

But for the time being, physical stores still hold some pretty clear pragmatic advantages over digital ones. For starters, they allow for a more intimate level of interaction with products than e-commerce sites: there’s no digital replacement for trying on a new shirt, after all. And there’s reason to believe that these spatial advantages still hold weight with consumers. A U.S. census showed that more than 90% of shoppers still do their shopping in stores:

Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales – U.S. Census

Even more, the tension between the ecommerce and in-store retail industries might be simmering down. There’s growing evidence that the boundary between in-store and online commerce is beginning to crumble:

The Difference Between In-Store and Online-Shopping is Shrinking Fast – Bloomreach

In 2015, a projected 64% of all in-store sales will be digitally influenced (compared to 49% in 2014):

Capitalizing on Digital Influence in Retail – Deloitte Digital

ROPO Effect by the Numbers

Generally speaking, consumers have adapted to the digital age of commerce far more quickly than the brands they’re buying. Their decision-making process has radically changed. Today, the average shopper is able to seamlessly shift between physical and digital retail spaces, weighing information from a number of cross-platform sources before finally arriving at a buying decision.

The result is an entirely new shopping landscape, where ROPO is quickly becoming the norm.

A study across 12 countries revealed that consumers worldwide are using cross-platform information to enhance their in-store shopping experience:

Connected Commerce – DigitasLBi 

A handy infographic breaking down the demographics behind the ROPO effect:

A Retailer’s Guide to Webrooming – Cayan

78% of consumers had webroomed during the 12 months preceding this study:

Webrooming: Online Retail’s Latest ChallengeWiser

Forrester estimates that webrooming will result in $1.8 trillion in sales by 2017, versus $1.2 trillion in 2012:

Study Shows Prevalence of Consumer “Webrooming” – Adweek

A study examining how mobile-assisted shoppers use online content to scope out offline deals:

The Rise of Mobile-Assisted Shoppers Columbia Business School

Webrooming Is a Ripe Opportunity for Retailers

Depending on which study you follow, showrooming is currently practiced by 65% or more of shoppers. And what’s more, ecommerce has created a new, more mindful consumer, damaging the retail industry’s ability to profit on customer impulse.

But take a closer look, and a different picture emerges, one that reveals consumers who still prefer making purchases in-store. According to the Cayan infographic listed above, webrooming has eclipsed showrooming in popularity. The study shows that 9 in 10 showroomers have webroomed, while only 6 in 10 webroomers have showroomed.

These articles support the narrative:

88% of Shoppers Are Webrooming – Retail Touch Points

Webrooming Overtakes Showrooming in Popularity – Retail Info Systems News

Why Webrooming Could Bring Customers Back Into StoresBusiness News Daily

Tipping the Scales With Omnichannel Content

How can brands and retailers take full advantage of webrooming, given its potential to boost sales? They can start by ensuring they’re established across all platforms, both online and offline. Many businesses are already experimenting with multichannel approaches, the most outlandish of which resemble something out of Minority Report:

Beacon Technology Offers Plenty of Opportunities for RetailersThe Guardian

But brands can achieve the same effect simply by ensuring that their online content is consistently superb.

A Nielsen survey reveals a high correlation between online browsing and buying intention:

E-Commerce: Evolution or Revolution in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods World? Nielsen

Luxury good sales are particularly sensitive to digital influence and webrooming:

Luxury in 2020: Extra Spending Generated by Digital to Double – Econsultancy

Need we say it again? An omnichannel approach is an essential part of attracting the modern consumer:

Creating a Strategy for Integrated In-Store Digital Retail – Smart Insights

Solving the Empowered Mobile Shopper – Mobile Insider

As Bloomreach puts it, “Users don’t see channels. They don’t see devices. They just interact”:

Yes, mobile is on fire, but if you’re not teaming it with your desktop search strategy, you’re deadBloomreach

The Takeaway

By stepping off the sidelines and committing to an omnichannel content approach, brands can position themselves to take full advantage of the ROPO effect.

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