Search drives in-store visits

Nov 05, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, a Watershed Publishing publication providing up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.

Three in four consumers who find local information in search results to be helpful report being more likely to visit stores. That’s according to a recent Google, Ipsos MediaCT and Sterling Brands survey of 6,000 smartphone users aged 18-54 who have influence in the purchase decision-making process of retail, CPG or tech products and have used the internet to look for shopping-related information.

The survey found that 71 percent of in-store shoppers who use smartphones for online research say their device has become more important to their in-store experience.

When asked how they felt when they did not find the information they were looking for in a store (apparently whether from associates or their smartphones), 43 percent were left frustrated, 41 percent were more like to shop elsewhere, and 22 percent were less likely to buy from the retailer.

So what exactly constitutes "helpful" information?

According to the survey results, a majority of shoppers would find the following to be very or extremely helpful in search results:

  • Price of item at a nearby store – 75 percent;
  • Item is in stock at nearby store – 74 percent;
  • Location of closest store with item in stock – 66 percent;
  • Details about local stores (hours, phone number) – 63 percent;
  • Map showing which stores carry the item searched for – 59 percent;
  • What else is available at the store that carries the items searched for – 57 percent.

Inventory awareness is particularly important given that one in four respondents who avoid stores report doing so because of limited awareness of nearby stores or the risk of items not being available.

The study also indicates it is a myth that once consumers start looking at their mobile devices in-store the retailer has lost their attention. Instead, among the 42 percent of respondents who conduct research online while in-store, 64 percent use search engines (meaning that stores can get their attention through search results) and 46 percent use the retailer’s own site or app.

Another way in which stores can offer a "smarter" experience is by providing personalized recommendations and coupons. Indeed, 85 percent of respondents say they would be more likely to shop in stores that offer personalized coupons and exclusive offers provided in stores, and 64 percent would be more likely to shop in stores that offer recommendations for specific products to purchase.

What should and shouldn’t be customary information on retailer apps? What search options should stores experiment with adding?

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14 Comments on "Search drives in-store visits"

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Max Goldberg

Retailers should offer what consumers expect to see: Pricing, availability, location, store hours and promotional offers. Otherwise, they are wasting consumers’ time. Retailer sites should be customized for mobile devices so they are easy to read. And finally retail sites should be easy to search so consumers can quickly find what they are looking for. These are common sense steps for retailers to become consumer- and mobile-friendly.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

The primary device for the omni-channel shopper is increasingly their smartphone. With mobility, omni-channel shoppers are truly shopping anytime and everywhere, including the retailer’s store aisle. This means that they are expecting to look at inventory in stock anytime and everywhere.

The greatest challenge for retailers today is to accurately provide inventory stock levels anytime and everywhere. Past practices of perpetual inventory will not achieve consumer expectations. The consumer quest for virtual inventory checking will drive an increasing need for RFID.

With consumer mobility comes the opportunity for retailers to make targeted, personalized offers, especially to customers in-store and near stores. Most retailers are pushing promotions via beacons. What if they collected consumer queries for both purchase-related and unrelated items, and then made bundle type discount offers based upon the size and the profitability of the market basket?

Bill Bittner
Bill Bittner
2 years 11 months ago
The fundamental point in all the recent discussions on “showrooming” seem to admit that it is here to stay and the question is no longer how to stop it, but how to benefit from the trend. I agree. Retailers can no longer only look at the “store experience” as the way to differentiate themselves. They must consider the whole consumer cycle from the product search and research to the selection of a provider and the return process. This means retailers will have to expand their websites to be much more than simply a list of prices and availability. By making themselves an advocate for the consumer the retailer becomes indispensable. The website should include things like category reviews, consumer blogs and product reviews. This could be expensive for individual retailers so banners could specialize in providing these sites or service providers could offer them. Probably the most difficult thing in all this is providing current inventory. No retailer can guarantee that by the time the customer gets in their car, drives to the store and gets to the aisle that the product will still be there. There needs to be a way to handle these situations when the customer shows… Read more »
Dan Frechtling

To choose the right media solution, first select the right problem. There are two here: 1) pre-store research (ROBI) and 2) in-store research.

Pre-store research is arguably important for digital media to address. More online research occurs pre-store than anywhere else. The Google study does much to advocate for more detailed pricing and availability information pre-store, but provides little evidence to support a mobile-first strategy in-store.

With in-store research, the problem begins with associates not being able to answer shopper questions about pricing and in-stocks at nearby stores in their chain. If inventory systems don’t provide visibility, the answer is as simple as picking up the phone.

Much ado has been made about mobile disrupting the in-store experience. But just like showrooming and its ancestors “browsing” and “window shopping,” digital media is no silver bullet. Yes digital natives are habituated to looking down. But when they walk in a store, the job of an associate is to engage them to look up.

Ken Lonyai

My pet peeve has always been the lack of immediate local inventory information via a store’s website or app. It’s a no-brainer and not technically challenging for retailers that want to offer it. In fact just this past weekend I went to the Barnes & Noble site to see if they had a book and saw that they offer “pick me up” as an option. Of two stores that the website claimed had it in stock, the e-mail notifications came back that one didn’t. Why they were wrong online is a question in and of itself, but at least their notification service avoided a frustrated customer.

Morale of the story: This poll seems very believable to me, but I can’t grasp why the retail industry is still in need of such a survey in 2014. Does the Emperor really have new clothes?

Mark Heckman

Many shopping apps have created a nice list of basic questions for app users to answer. This information provides the shopper profile data needed to begin a relationship. From there it is all about being in a position to learn from how the shopper utilizes the app, what they search for, buy and recommend.

It is this on-going behavioral data that is the secret sauce for creating a lasting relationship with the shopper, as the shopper’s needs and preferences change over time and with the advent of new technology entering the scene.

Each retailer will have their own set of priorities, but they should all find value in knowing what other stores a user shops, the lifestyle characteristics that drive their priorities, their self-reported priorities regarding promotions, price comparisons, product information, etc.

Further, I would want to know how best to reach the user. To that end, understanding what interactive devices (computer, tablet, smartphone) they commonly use in their shopping process is valuable information from which to build a successful dialogue.

Gajendra Ratnavel

What’s interesting here is that the use of mobile apps in-store is totally uncontrolled by the retailer. Yes, they can have some degree of control by providing their own mobile app or website, but the mobile device has access to many other apps and sites.

If retailers want to bring this under their total control, they should introduce touch terminals and touchscreen kiosks. Touch terminals and touchscreens have much bigger and brighter screens. This will provide the customers with a much better experience than a small mobile screen so they will use it, and the content on this can be controlled.

An added benefit of kiosks vs. mobile is that on mobile the customer is in your store but may have their attention focused on your competitor’s information. So even though they are in your store, your competition is benefiting. Kiosks are not like that because your customers are still within your environment.

Interactive in-store technology needs to ensure two things:

  1. Customers find what they are looking for. Preferably within a reasonable amount of time so they don’t start browsing on their mobile phones.
  2. They feel good about how much they are paying for it.
Joel Rubinson

This is important research. I like the simple but important question of asking people what they would find helpful. I would just add another simple aspect to embracing the digital age—put free Wi-Fi in your stores! You can deliver welcome messages, accumulate user data and get a “thank you” from grateful shoppers. It’s all part and parcel of a larger “let’s embrace digital, always on shopping—for real!”

Ralph Jacobson

Product, promotion, price, place, etc. These are all bits of information that should be easily accessible and very intuitive on every merchant, retailer or CPG brand’s site. Whether at home, at work, on the road or wherever, the shopper must be able to integrate the merchant’s site into their lifestyle. That means that if Timmy needs new football shoes, Mommy has to be able to find the location of the store that has them in stock on their way home.

The more the search options the better, quite simply. The mechanics of the search tool must allow as few re-entries of data as possible as new searches are performed. Pre-populate with previous information entered. This is where you can often see material differentiation opportunities on-site currently.

Alan Lipson
Alan Lipson
2 years 11 months ago
I see a fundamental difference between what is needed on the app during my search prior to my store visit vs. what I need during my store visit. Many of the criteria in the article are very appropriate while I am doing my initial search and deciding where to buy. Once I am in-store, my needs change. First, the main reason I am using the app is due to sales associates not being available or not being able to help me. Second, I am not able to find the product that I am looking for. So maybe a good piece of information would be to direct me to the location in the store where the merchandise is supposed to be located. A few days ago when there was a discussion about the OSHbot (the robot at Orchard Supply Hardware) I wondered why they couldn’t just deploy those applications and information to their app and let the consumer use their own smartphone to engage with in-store. We need to be careful that we aren’t just moving tasks from the sales associate to the consumer. The interaction with the consumer on their mobile device needs to have a purpose to further engage… Read more »
Doug Fleener

As difficult as it is, especially for independents, real-time inventory is becoming extremely important. This will be a necessity in the next 12-24 months. Also agree about the open Wi-Fi.

Lee Kent

While it is interesting to ask the consumer what would be helpful, let’s put that into context.

The consumer owns their online shopping experience and therefore is definitely in the right position to know what would be helpful. And yes, it goes without saying that inventory visibility is key.

The bigger question here is, who should own the in-store experience? The right answer is, the retailer. Retailers need to understand their customers’ paths to purchase and create meaningful experiences that move the customer to the right end state. Note that I didn’t say the result is a “satisfied” customer. There is a big difference.

Getting the customer to the right end state may definitely start with inventory awareness, however, next steps depend on that customer’s path. Do they just need direction to the item? Do they need to know that there may be alternatives? Do they need to know that there may be other items that are usually also needed? And so on…many of these questions and thus the accompanying experiences may not be known by the customer and this is where the retailer can own the journey and succeed.

And that’s my 2 cents!

James Tenser

It’s good to see intuition about shoppers confirmed by straightforward research, as we see here. Certainly we can expect folks will seek out reliable in-stock and pricing information prior to a store visit. For higher consideration purchases, we may also anticipate product research as an antecedent step.

Once they arrive in the store, the need state changes (as several here observe). High-quality, reliable WIFI is a must today, and the access should be quick and designed for the small screen (no unreadable tiny log-on links at the bottom of a long swath of tiny grey text, please).

If the retailer offers an app, for goodness sake make sure it works flawlessly in the store.

Ed Stevens
Ed Stevens
2 years 11 months ago

Retailers need to get on the train and provide local search information to shoppers in all media possible. Inventory accuracy is an issue, but it is sort of like navigational accuracy for jet aircraft—very much in demand and absolutely feasible. Retailers who adapt will thrive, and the rest will die.

If a retailer can’t meet the needs of shoppers quickly, they need to think about moving to technologies that enable rapid time to market and lower up-front costs.


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