How to Track Online Shoppers That Buy Offline

Consumers who shop online and then visit your brick and mortar store to make their purchase are called cross-channel shoppers, and they can wreak havoc with your attempts to track your online advertising’s effectiveness. Here are some things you can do to account for cross-channel shoppers.

We’ve heard it for years. Heck, I’ve said it myself countless times before: “Click-throughs are great, but it’s conversions that really matter.” However, consumer research over the last several years has shown a growing trend that most emarketers believed would have eased up by this date in time. Still, one survey after another reports just the opposite: the trend is getting stronger.

What’s happening is that consumers – in increasing numbers – are researching online before buying offline (ROBO). According to ecommerce software provider MarketLive (as reported in Internet Retailer magazine), “The picture emerging from the data shows many consumers using the web to search for deals, moving quickly from site to site, and often going into stores to buy after researching online.”

But, the ROBO trend isn’t a new one and, while it may be spurred by the current economy, that isn’t the case in years past. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports an increase of 8% in this area from 2000 to 2007. As of September 2007, 81% of Americans typically did research online for a product they may buy offline. As many as 85% of those shoppers agreed with the statement, “I prefer to see things I buy before I buy them.”

In addition, Pew recounts that 47% of Internet users said that if a store provided product information online, even if it didn’t sell goods at its website, they would be more likely to go into the physical store to buy the product.

eMarketer agrees, reporting, “The most-trod cross-channel shopping path starting online (i.e., from a Web site, e-mail or an online newspaper circular) was browsing a Web site and then buying in a store (37%).”

So then, for pay-per-click (PPC) advertisers, what does this all mean? In actuality, your conversion rate could be a good deal higher than your analytics show.

Is Your Conversion Rate Skewed?

Web statistics only report what happens on your website. Visitors come and are recorded as a click-through from your ad to your site. Visitors click to different pages; the stats pick up on their movements. A conversion takes place online; it’s noted. But, what if the customer leaves to buy offline? Then, you record a click-through, but no conversion. Instead, it can drive your bounce rate up while stalling out your conversion rate.

Stats programs aren’t capable of tracking offline movements. So, when a Web searcher clicks from a PPC ad to your site and then leaves the site to purchase in your retail store or calls your 800 order line, it isn’t calculated. It still counts, however. You made the sale. The person is arrives at your location to buy… he just isn’t buying from your site. It’s sort of like the old question, “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a noise?”

Depending on your definition of a conversion, you may be doing much better than you think you are with your PPC campaign. Even if you have the most sophisticated analytics software available today, ROBO shoppers could be skewing your results. The problem is there’s no accurate way to track offline conversions.

How Do You Account for ROBO Shoppers?

There are a few things that might shed a bit of light on the impact ROBO shoppers are having on your site. Here are two ideas.

#1 – Add a “Buy in Store” Option. On each product page, add a button that reads “Buy in Store.” When clicked, a message appears with a discount code (best way to track), the store phone number, and a list of locations. When the discount code is given to the cashier at your retail location, you’ll know immediately that this customer researched online and bought offline.

#2 – Offer In-Store Pickup. The customer would go through the same motions as with purchasing online, but the “shipping” option would default to in-store pickup. Shoppers would research and buy online then drive to your store to pick up the purchase. Include a bit of copy that lets customers know, if they don’t like the item once they see it in person, a full refund will be issued on the spot.

Although technology is getting more sophisticated by the nanosecond, it would be unrealistic at this point to believe you can track all ROBO sales from start to finish. Using a little creativity, however, can give you a better handle on what’s really happening with your conversion and bounce rates.

Before you throw in the towel from frustration over what you think might be a slow PPC campaign, do a little evaluating to see if conversions could be taking place offline rather than on.

Copyright 2009, Karon Thackston, All Rights Reserved

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