It’s a question that has divided consumers ever since it became possible for us to make transactions online. From household appliances and furniture, to internet banking and other services, big companies and businesses have convinced us that our lives are increasingly easier to live, thanks to the virtual universe.
Yet while the online shopping experience is evolving, this doesn’t mean that the brick and mortar experience is redundant. Some online retailers, such as Birchbox which opened in Soho, are even investing in creating physical locations, contrary to the belief that we are fast becoming an online centric culture.
So why not indulge in both?
Successful consumer engagement relies on knowing the value of the online and offline experience to your brand, but also acknowledging that they must be able to complement each other while existing as their own processes.
For some businesses, the tactile, in-store experience is still pivotal to closing a sale, where the ‘try before you buy’ mentality is still relevant to their products. This might mean taking a different approach to how you develop your marketing approach entirely. Sometimes it helps to think outside the box and consider that success isn’t based on just managing to sell your product online and offline, it’s about getting customers interested in both your virtual and physical presences.
Take Birchbox as an example again. They created a physical location whereby customers are able to design their own subscription cosmetics boxes, after trying products in store, with additional services offered, including hair and make-up appointments.
For other industries, such as hospitality, engagement is driven by both online and offline interaction. While it is far more convenient to book a room online, the end goal is to have a positive, in person experience. If a guest enjoys your facilities, they are more likely to share that experience with your brand online and engage further with your online presence. Setting up an online guest book, or allowing customers to make purchases for services online while they are at your location, are also ways of integrating the online and the offline.
While it’s clear that the consumer experience is increasingly shifting to a reliance upon online resources, it’s important to note that much of the interaction between business and consumers is still centered on what transpires at physical locations. Businesses are increasingly aiming to keep their customers offline engaging with their business online, when the key isn’t just to create a balance between the two but to integrate them into a streamlined experience.
This is where the ROPO/ROBO process is important.
Research online, purchase (or buy) offline. It’s the increasing trend with shoppers, with about 59% of survey participants stating that they were more inclined to buy a product after having researched it online.
Similarly, 60% of Australian shoppers combine the online and offline stores as part of their purchase process.
Often, this online research occurs as a customer is in store. Shoppers are increasingly using their mobile and internet devices to look up products they see in store, or compare them with others.
Make your business site and information available across all devices
This may seem like a point for online transactions only, however, many consumers use their mobiles when at physical locations to research products or services. A customer might be within the vicinity of your location and decide that they want to make a purchase immediately. Ensuring that a consumer can access your app, and their cart or wishlist items which may have been compiled on a home desktop or laptop, is a streamlined experience that blends both the online and offline.
Link your physical and online campaigns and transaction points
While you might have a campaign that puts more emphasis on the online, or vice versa, it’s a good idea to make sure that if the majority of interaction takes place in one setting, that this is broadcast on the other, if not, merged.
There are several ways to link your physical and online campaigns, and here are just a few examples.
If you would like to entice customers to visit your online business, then QR codes are a creative way of doing so. These are barcodes which you can place on a product or distribute at your service that, when scanned by a mobile barcode app, will redirect the consumer to your designated website or page, encouraging your customers to engage with your online businesses. However, you must be sure to use them effectively.
Alternatively, making deals or offers count for both online and offline interaction can help increase customer engagement.
Email alerts for special events in-store are also a simple yet efficient way of merging the online with the offline. Customers can be given notice of exclusive deals or events, and encourages your loyal customers to maintain an online investment with your brand.
8Hotels, known as the instagram hotel, encourages customers to post photos of their experiences at the hotel, running a monthly competition for eager snappers to win a free night on their accommodation. They also invite those with more than 10k followers to spend a night free at the hotel.
Make information available online to enhance the experience offline
This is particularly useful if a customer wants to check the stock of a product in their local area. By providing data of your stock levels available to the customer online, this makes it more convenient for them to decide where they would like to purchase a product, particularly if they do not want to wait for shipping. This isn’t only applicable to the retail industry, providing menus and prices for restaurants, or making event details available to the public (for example, transport timetables or guest appearances) can help encourage people to attend your bricks and mortar locations.
Experiences that happen online should count offline – and vice versa
Any interaction with your brand, whether it happens online or offline, should be rewarded. Items or services purchased in store and offline that can contribute to a loyalty system should be accounted for.
For example, popular tea company, T2 has a rewards system that is based on both online and offline transactions. Members are provided with ‘Tea Society’ cards which they can use in store, but they are also able to check the balance of their points online, along with all transactions they have made under membership.
Make deals relevant to locations
Ticketmaster’s online experience complements and enhances the real life one. They allow users to choose seats near their friends by creating an interactive social seat map, based on where their Facebook friends are sitting.
Mobile alerts are also a developing form of notification, where subscribers receive texts on deals and offers when they are within the vicinity of a certain location. Placecast’s ongoing study has revealed a 19% increased interest in mobile alerts since the beginning of the study in 2005, with 40% saying it was very important and they were highly interested in receiving location based content on their phones.