“Webrooming” is booming

Shopping online to buy in-store

“Webrooming” refers to the process of researching products online and then visiting a store to make a purchase (the opposite of "showrooming,” meaning searching offline and buying online). Also known as ROPO (research online–purchase offline), it's a significant and growing trend. Citing a recent study, Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru estimated that “webrooming” will result in $1.8 trillion in sales by 2017m versus $1.2 trillion in 2012. In contrast, total e-commerce sales are estimated to reach $370 billion in 20171.

According to a 2014 Accenture survey, a growing number of consumers (71%) plan to participate in “webrooming” – an increase of 10 percent in comparison to the 2013 holiday shopping season.2 This is great news for retailers who want to attract customers in-store, where there is a greater probability of add-on purchases (impulse buying). 

In a 2014, a Deloitte survey showed that when consumers were asked why they would look online for an item before going in-store to make a purchase, 47% of the respondents noted they did not want to pay for shipping and 46% added they want to go to the store to touch and feel the product before buying it.3

When asked why they are reluctant to buy online, most of them declared they were concerned with data protection and still consider knowledgeable store associates instrumental in the global shopping experience.

What are the challenges surrounding “webrooming” and can the trend be further leveraged for the benefit of retailers?

Indeed, “webrooming” is a clear demonstration of how the purchasing process can be smooth from start to finish, even when starting online and finishing offline with no or minimal interruption between steps. The digital component is just one part of the process that will ultimately lead the customer to the store. This omni-channel experience has huge potential when used correctly by retailers, blending web, mobile and in-store channels in a seamless fashion for their customers. The process needs to be consistent, as the in-store experience is just another component and must be aligned with the online experience to optimize purchase decisions.

The real challenge for retailers is to be prepared to deal with a different kind of customer mindset. The “webrooming” phenomenon draws customers in-store who already know what they want; are aware of the best deals on the market; have found the resources online to eventually benchmark competitor’s offers; and most importantly–are more knowledgeable than ever. A “webrooming” customer may require retailers to consider a new engagement approach to ensure that final sale is made.

ONE: Rethink the role played by the point of sale

As “webrooming” continues to grow, the store will no longer be the first point of contact, but will be the last point in the process. This should have a substantial impact on the way customers are welcomed and directed in-store. Additionally, brand owners must consider their packaging–products must remain aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching in order to differentiate the experience from the online shopping market.

TWO: Be aware of what people find online

Whatever the kind of product, item or service, retailers should be aware of what customers will find when searching online. Prices, deals, bundles, benchmarks and reputation should become shared knowledge.

THREE: Train sales staff

Assuming customers might already be knowledgeable about what they intend to purchase, retailers will have to ensure store personnel bring added value to the customer experience with product insights and attentive service.

FOUR: Highlight key product positioning in the store

“Webrooming” shoppers like to go in-store to touch and experience the product before eventually buying it. Therefore, the product must be well exhibited, and every visual characteristic from the positioning to the packaging has to be appealing to the customer. Packaging will play an even greater role in standing out on the shelf (both virtually and physically) to encourage impulse purchases.

FIVE: Make the moment of purchase a social act

When people search online, they tend to invite members of their network to participate and rely on friends’ recommendations. There is no reason why the purchase itself should not continue to be a social activity as well. Retailers will have to develop smart social media features to enhance the customers’ experience in-store as well as through digital means.

A greater use of online resources is an opportunity for customers to be better informed about the products they are planning to buy. It's also a fantastic opportunity for retailers to add value in-store in an innovative way, making the customers feel part of a sophisticated process.