Not so long ago, many stationary traders feared for their existence. With the increasing popularity of the World Wide Web, the fear that e-commerce will one day completely replace stationary trade and thus everyone who still sells locally is facing an existential crisis increased. And the headlines that dealt with the dying of local shops did not take long to appear. But contrary to many forecasts, stationary trade is far from extinct.
On the opposite: instead of a complete rush to online trade, a shift has taken place. Consumers often use the Internet mainly for research, but then decide to make a purchase only on the spot. This phenomenon – also known as the ROPO effect (research online, purchase offline) – has become particularly important in recent years. But how can stationary retailers take advantage of this buyer behaviour?
ROPO means “research online, purchase offline”. Here, the user first finds out about the product online on the company’s own website, social media channels or in independent forums. Prices are also compared, reviews taken into account and products preselected. Not until then does the prospective customer decide for or against the product directly in stationary trade. This phenomenon is also known as webrooming, in contrast to showrooming, where the prospective customer informs himself in the stationary trade but buys online.
One thing is clear: this phenomenon has only existed since the Internet became accessible to everyone. But why has this form of behavioral change become established?
Through the Internet we are all used to being informed about everything at any time. No matter whether we want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow or what role Spain played in the Thirty Years’ War, we have all the information at our fingertips. Because of this possibility, our need for information has also increased more and more. Because we are simply no longer used to buying products without knowing beforehand what other people think of them.
At the same time, globalisation has flooded the domestic market with low-quality products. Hardly anyone has not yet bought a product that has gone into the trash after its first use because there has been a clear cut in quality in production. And even if these products are often far below the price that domestic companies charge for comparable products, consumers are annoyed when a product can no longer be used after its first use.
The combination of these two factors is clear: in order to find the best quality product at the lowest possible price, the user first reaches for the number one information medium, the Internet, in order to be able to get a better picture of the product on site, to be able to look at it live and to touch it.
The biggest occurrence of the ROPO effect is in the health, finance, tourism and insurance sectors. One thing these industries probably have in common is that most of their products require a great deal of explanation and advice. Of course: hardly anyone books a life insurance policy or an expensive trip online. It is more likely to get information online and then make your way to your local insurance consultant or travel agency to have a direct contact person in case of doubt – because nobody likes to be put on hold.
What other reasons are there for this behaviour?
As early as 2011, Google published a study according to which almost 38 percent of those surveyed stated that they would inform themselves about a desired product online, but purchase it offline. Considering the fact that significantly more people use the mobile internet today and that information about desired products is thus even more easily accessible, it can be concluded that the percentage of users with this behaviour has increased rather than decreased.
And this is exactly what makes it necessary for merchants – regardless of whether they sell online or offline – to ensure a positive online presence these days. After all, if a merchant’s online rating is poor, this can also lead to significantly fewer in-store visits offline.
To keep it simple: the potential customer must be able to find out everything that interests him as quickly and easily as possible. This ranges from the address and opening hours to the availability of the desired product. The important thing here is to openly admit on your website that the product is currently not available. Most customers are willing to wait a few days until the product can be purchased again. However, if the customer finds out in the store that the desired product is sold out, this could lead to a negative association with the company – and ultimately to less sales.
Another important factor is complete product portfolios. If you only display a few of your products online, the customer might think that these are all of your products and look for a store that carries his desired product safely. This is also an important factor for restaurants, after all, many people have already made a decision regarding their choice of food before entering a restaurant.
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