‘Webrooming’: How technology aids to retail

Online services may seem to have surpassed just about everything we do in the real world, from going to the movies and reading the newspaper to depositing checks at the bank and buying stamps at the post office.

While most of us would place trips to the mall in this same category of tasks that have given way to the Web, new research reveals that online shopping actually is not replacing visits to bricks-and-mortar stores. In fact, the proportion of people shopping online and going to a physical store to buy what they have found is soaring, and the implications for both shoppers and marketers in southeast Michigan and across the nation are substantial.

A study released earlier this year by Accenture found that the number of U.S. shoppers planning to visit physical stores rose from 9 percent a year earlier to 21 percent now. In some cases, they’re picking up items they ordered online — 19 percent said they engage in “click and collect” services. That’s up from 12 percent the previous year.

Marketers once were concerned that consumers eventually would visit stores only to see, touch and try on articles, then order them online — a phenomenon they called “showrooming” to suggest that retail stores ultimately would be mere showrooms for online orders. The Accenture research indicates the opposite is true, that in fact shoppers are engaging in “webrooming.” In the study, 78 percent of the nation’s shoppers surveyed said they had webroomed during the previous 12 months, choosing and comparing products online but buying them at a physical store. Moreover, a Harris poll discovered that 69 percent of Americans webroom, and just 46 percent showroom.

For brands that are trying to capture the consumer’s attention and loyalty, these findings are cause to rethink where and how they market their wares. Ad dollars still focus on TV spots and increasingly have been flowing to online outlets — websites, social networks, blogs and other media — but these commercial messages are reaching consumers primarily at home. Marketers who rely only on TV, print and online sources are missing out on a chance to influence the shopper while he or she is traveling to the store, either to reinforce the purchasing decision made at home or to change minds along the way.

The last impression a brand makes often is just as important as the first, and messages received en route to a shopping destination can be very influential. A recent Nielsen Catalina Solutions study, for example, turned up a significant link between radio spots and sales at physical stores. In the study, every dollar advertisers spent on radio ads (heard largely when people were running errands or commuting) generated a return of $6 from consumers within 28 days after they heard the broadcast ad.

That trip between home and store can be a critical stage of the sales experience, because marketers have a captive audience in the driver’s seat. Radio works to some extent but offers no assurance that vehicle occupants are tuned into a particular spot. Billboards can only make very quick impressions. Screens at gyms and airports fall into the “captive audience” category, but people there are not on their way to stores.

More effective are recent unconventional technologies, such as Gas Station TV (GSTV), a service that displays news, sports and entertainment among other engaging content on gas pumps while drivers refuel their cars. Multitasking as they fill their tanks and watch video is an easy ask of drivers, who become the ultimate captive audience at the pump.

New high-tech media offers marketers and brands in the Detroit area better ways to reach those consumers, capture their attention and attempt to navigate their decision-making toward the marketer’s brand.