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How search influences offline purchases .

The author

Steve Baker

Chief Analyst

A very topical subject in search at the moment is how retailers measure how many in-store/offline purchases are influenced or originate from an online search. It’s something I’ve been striving to help my retail clients with over the last few months.

A very topical subject in search at the moment is how retailers measure how many in-store/offline purchases are influenced or originate from an online search. It’s something I’ve been striving to help my retail clients with over the last few months.

In a previous role, I helped a well-known high-street alcohol retailer measure this exact metric. It wasn’t the most scientific way of tracking who researches online and who purchases offline, but in the absence of budget to implement a much nicer and technologically advanced method it sufficed to prove a point. On the store locator area of the website, we placed a call to action which when clicked, created a pdf voucher for 10% off products in that store. The voucher was encoded with a promotion code, which when redeemed at the store in question, was entered by the shop assistant at the till. At the end of the month, head office totted up all the times the voucher code was used, and we had a result. The code was unique, so if your visit came from PPC or SEO, you got a different code. We found that just over 25% of visits to the stores that we trialled were triggered by an online search, more so on the organic side of things. Of course, there was an argument that a discount drove people to the stores in the first place, which is true but we also trialled this with a free gift voucher for the same number of stores with similar monthly foot fall. The result was 18% of people visiting that store were triggered by an online search. Unfortunately, the decision to roll this plan out to all stores was halted, and shortly after, I left the agencies employment. But my curiosity as to how this would work with bigger and more visible high street brands has lingered on… My own opinion is that the higher the value of the item an individual wants to buy, the more research they will do online before, more than likely, buying offline. Remember No, neither does anyone else. It didn’t work as a web offering as people don’t buy cars online generally. They want to go to the showroom, see the car, try it out and see how comfortable they are with parting with their cash. They may then go away and use search to find a cheaper deal… The most obvious two examples are houses (Right Move) and cars (AutoTrader).  Although these purchases are never / rarely made online in these circumstances, the use of these two websites is high where purchase intentions in these categories are concerned. But this isn’t really search orientated. Thinking of an example of my own to illustrate how search influenced offline purchase became a struggle, until I remembered I was actually in the middle of this process at the moment. My product of choice? Golf clubs. As any self-respecting golf enthusiast will tell you, buying new clubs is something that takes time. You have to try the clubs you are intending on buying. Are they right for me? Can I see myself playing with them? Do I feel confident with them in my hands? All questions which cannot be answered at the end of a laptop and a mouse. So, researching the purchase began. I turned to the brand leaders on the market for ideas – Direct Golf and American Golf. I spent time looking through the ranges and prices to see what might suit me. I made a short list of clubs I wanted to find out more about, and Googled away. Finding reviews online from testers, major golf publications and general golfers helped narrow down my selections to 2 or 3 sets or irons, and then my search went product specific. This is more than likely indicative of many web users. I carried out the same process when looking for a laptop earlier in the year. In effect, I’m relying here on Google to give me the best price for the exact product I’m searching for. Now a lot of the sites I find are online retailers only, and as I want to try the clubs out, I’ll need to visit somewhere that stocks them. My decision is somewhat swayed by the fact I have vouchers for American Golf. So I visit my local store to try out the clubs. I find a set I’m happy with and the sales assistant thinks he’s got this one in the bag, except, I have used the power of search to aid me further… “I found the exact same clubs online for about £40 cheaper. Can you match the price?” I said. A look of disbelief crept across the lads face. “It isn’t ebay is it? We don’t price match on ebay.” “No” I said, showing him a print out of the clubs I’d find elsewhere for less, which I’d got by Googling the set of irons I was after. “Oh, ok” he said and shuffled off to his manager. I left with the clubs I wanted, he left with a sale, and everyone was happy. In truth, I’d never considered buying from the company on the print out. I have no affinity with the brand, I’d never heard of them as a company and I didn’t trust them to handle my transaction efficiently and effectively. So search played a pivotal role in the offline purchase of these clubs, although maybe not so in the traditional way of search for product first and pick a retail outlet. I do firmly feel that the higher value the item, the more likely it is to be bought offline. However, high value items that have been thoroughly researched online and offline could be bought online with search playing a critical role in this process. Retailers will need to look into ways to tracking how search drive footfall and purchases. There have been discussions about using mobiles to track the user’s visit to a store, and this may well be a technological way to overcome the barrier brands currently face. What are your thoughts or experiences of this? Leave your comments below.