Six effective methods for building measurable online-to-offline conversions
By Kent Lewis
Although a vast majority of traditional retailers have some sort of ecommerce on their Web sites, there are still a significant number of mom and pop brick and mortar retailers that are unable or unwilling to ecommerce-enable their Web sites. Unfortunately, many of these companies have also chosen not to leverage the Internet to boost in-store sales. I’ve outlined six effective methods for building measurable online-to-offline conversions for brick and mortar retailers below.
While the focus of this article is brick and mortar retailers that do not have or desire to have ecommerce on the site, there is a compelling reason to consider it, even if it’s not intuitive to the business. For example, if you are a car or RV dealership and don’t have the bandwidth to manage a dedicated Internet sales team, adding a basic shopping cart with automotive or RV parts and accessories to the site can result in foot traffic and in-store sales of the primary product (like a $250,000 RV). Many of these stores can be outsourced to ecommerce fulfillment companies.
One of the easiest ways to generate in-store visits from the Web is to create printable coupons to be redeemed at point of sale. The primary benefit to printable coupons is that they incentivize the customer to bring something with them to the store that can be easily tracked and associated to the Web site without the sales clerks needed to ask any questions and track responses. Many name brand retailers are utilizing this method to effectively measure the Web site’s impact on in-store sales. If coupons are not feasible, an alternative approach is to create unique product offerings that are marketed only on the Web site, although they are redeemed in-store (like a “Web special” spa package I purchased for my wife at her favorite salon). Many, if not all, of these promotional ideas can and should be promoted via email newsletter and RSS feed to interested customers.
For companies that rely on phone calls to drive in-store sales, a relatively affordable approach measuring phone-based conversions is via a unique toll-free 800#. Any calls into stores that originate via these numbers can be easily tracked back to the Web site. For companies without the ability to utilize unique toll-free numbers in-house can outsource the phone conversion tracking to vendors. ClickPath utilizes dynamically generated 800#s to measure in-store conversions while companies like Ingenio and eStara provide “push-to-talk” call tracking on-site. While Google’s pay-per-call service is still in beta, it can be a viable way to drive phone calls directly from search engine text ads, especially if the Web site isn’t up to the task.
We’re all members of affinity or loyalty programs of one kind of another (airlines, grocery stores, coffee shops, etc.). Many retailers that have a customer loyalty or membership are not taking that additional step to tie in the unique identifier with Web site behavior. You don’t have to be Costco and REI to implement an online-to-offline tracking program. By requiring site visitors to register on site (usually in return for receiving benefits) you can associate online data with offline customers via their membership number.
While larger retailers hire full-time staff or agencies to analyze site traffic, few are utilizing site behavior data to influence offline retail sales. Understanding online user behavior can provide insights into predicting offline customer behavior. For example, an increase in views of a particular product or services page may directly correlate to a future increase in in-store sales. Additionally, retailers may be able to determine product orders based on popularity of various on-site search terms. If a discontinued product continues to generate significant search volume, the retailer may want to recommend a comparable product in the search results, or consider reordering the old product.
When all else fails, it never hurts to ask. Rather than relying on consultants or ill-informed employees to determine your online-to-offline strategy, talk to your customers. Ask your existing customers what type of Web site content and promotions would drive them to the store, and give it to them. Developing an in-store survey for customers is ideal for gaining insight into the target audience, but paper-based surveys can be cumbersome to manage. Web-based surveys are relatively cost-effective and can provide statistically significant data in a shorter amount of time. Options for Web-based surveys include “Nth” visitor pop-ups (i.e. Can we ask you a few questions?), promotional links on the site and in email newsletters. For bonus points, provide a computer or kiosk in-store for customers to take the Web-based survey. To minimize skewing of the data, it’s best not to incentivize participants on the front-end, but it’s always nice to offer a promotion upon completion (i.e. discount, gift card or free product) as a thank you for their time.
Implementing any combination of on-site promotions, phone tracking, affinity program, site analytics, ecommerce and surveys should increase foot traffic and in-store sales. At the very least, each and every method is highly measurable and will provide invaluable insights into generating additional in-store sales.
Kent Lewis is President of Anvil Media, Inc., a search engine marketing agency based in Portland, OR and can be reached at 503.595.6050.