ROPO is a consumer trend in the e-commerce sector which is growing year on year. Consumers increasingly prefer to research online and purchase offline. The good news? This behaviour can be used to your advantage.

What is ROPO?

ROPO stands for Research Online, Purchase Offline. It also goes by the name of ROBO, Research Online, Buy Offline. Never heard of it? You will soon! Despite referring to sales made offline, it’s very much the new measure of e-commerce success.

The e-commerce sector is growing at a rapid rate, with the value of online retail sales in the UK alone reaching a whopping £67.38 billion. We are also witnessing an ever-growing shift from online to offline in the purchasing habits of users all over the world.

Different sectors and different product types drive ROPO behaviour in varying ways. We’ll get into more of this below so stay tuned! In the meantime, take a look at some recent statistics to get a clear idea of where this trend is heading.

These simple stats give a clear overview into the world of ROPO. There are also plenty more available online. It’s not only business sector that affects the trend in ROPO but also the age of the consumer. The older generation, typically 65 and over, still prefer visiting physical shops to see and touch products. They often do this without conducting any online research at all. The younger, tech-savvy generation however, are much bigger e-commerce users, with over half stating that they make purchases online without needing to see them first.

Sectors and age groups aside, the trend is there and it’s real. But where did it come from? Why does it matter to e-commerce? And how can you use it in your favour?

Why is the modern-day consumer increasingly exhibiting this behaviour?

Modern day consumers have increasingly more technology at their fingertips. This means they are more able to obtain the details they want to make an informed purchase decision. Customers prefer to seek out online reviews and more in-depth product information to “back up” their purchases. This is especially true of goods with higher price points.

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After doing this research (more often on their smartphones) they then want to physically see, touch and evaluate their potential purchase in person. In fact Bazaarvoice’s most recent study showed that 45% of in store buyers first consult online reviews using their smartphone. This equates to a 15% year-on-year increase.

In short, ROPO behaviour allows consumers to make quicker, more informed decisions. It also means they can fulfil their needs in the shortest time frame possible. So naturally, the trend continues to grow.

How does the ROPO trend directly affect e-commerce success?

There are a number of ways that ROPO has already affected and will continue to affect e-commerce. The good news is, they are not necessarily negative.

Firstly, e-commerce businesses are likely to see growth in cart abandonment rate, especially for high-value products or first-time purchases. This is often because consumers are going through the initial research phase of the buying cycle. In this phase they may add several items to a cart in order to compare prices or to save items to view later.

But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a customer has truly abandoned your products.

Once they have the necessary information they may then go on to make an in store purchase, and so abandoning the cart in the process. This means that business owners need to shift their focus to a combined online/offline approach by asking themselves the following question: what digital tactics can I use to drive in-store sales?

In short, more must be done to convince a customer to convert their online research into a brick-and-mortar purchase.

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Customer reviews play a huge role in influencing how we shop, eat, even travel. What is the first thing you look at when you’re attempting to evaluate a product or service? Most likely reviews left by other customers! Recent research actually shows that products with 50 or more reviews can increase conversion rates by 4.6%. So, having a good set of reviews on a product page is an excellent first starting point.

With that in mind it's important to encourage both new and returning customers to leave reviews of their recent purchases with a solid remarketing strategy and follow-up tactics. By doing so you’ll effectively be giving new visitors to your site the key incentive they need to carry out a purchase in-store. Or, ideally, on your website.

Augmented technology plays a role

This consumer desire to thoroughly evaluate a product goes hand-in-hand with the recent rise in augmented technology and artificial intelligence in the e-commerce sector. Consumers increasingly desire the ability to see their potential purchases in “real-life” situations.

This can range from makeup brands showcasing eyeshadows and lipsticks on different models to apparel retailers showcasing catwalk videos of clothes and shoes. Both examples give the consumer an idea of what each product would look like on them.

Ikea have taken this one step further. Their smartphone app actually allows users to visualise how a large number of pieces from their website would look like in their own homes. It does this by rendering the image in 3-D from different angles. This gives a potential buyer a huge confidence boost to buy online or in store, armed with the knowledge that the sofa they’ve had their eye on would in fact look good in their living room

How ROPO can be used as a tool to leverage in store sales

The fact that consumers are leaning towards making purchases in store should definitely not be viewed as a bad thing. In fact there are ways that ROPO can be used to boost brick-and-mortar sales.

Firstly, it’s a well-known fact that mobile experience is an absolutely essential factor in e-commerce success and growth. Now this factor has also extended its reach into in store purchasing decisions.

This is because a growing number of people conduct research on their smartphones on-the-go before then making the decision to purchase an item in store. And the bottom line is that if your site is not mobile optimised to enable potential customers to access product information quickly, easily and efficiently, they’ll simply take their business elsewhere.

This is backed up by recent statistics which show that a huge 80% of people out shopping used their smartphone inside a physical store to conduct research on a product, including looking at reviews and comparing prices.

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The Shopify Plus platform, which we specialise in at blubolt, is built with this in mind. Designed for the biggest retailers in the world, online and in store, it offers a seamless cross-device experience meaning shoppers can easily view product pages and navigate your site on their smartphone. This gives them all the information they need to make the online to offline experience as fluid as possible.

Furthermore, both desktop and mobile users are demanding ever-more “hands-on” technology when conducting their online research. They want to be able to view a product from every possible angle and to see all its colour variations on different models or settings. Access to live stock updates is also an important factor.

Does ROPO behaviour change the way I measure my ROI?

In short, yes!

Gone are the days of measuring your digital efforts in terms of e-commerce purchases alone. To truly measure your success you need a more integrated approach to both online and offline experiences and how the former drives the latter. This has been commonly referred to as an “omnichannel” experience for shoppers who prefer a mix of digital and tangible information to drive their purchasing behaviour.

Insights are necessary in terms of which digital adverts, listings and marketing tactics actually led to in store purchases. Difficult you say? Perhaps. Impossible? Absolutely not.

So how do I gain these insights?

Let’s start with your Google AdWords campaign. It already has a nifty feature which shows you how many people click on the call button when your ad appears on a mobile device. It's likely that a caller is enquiring about your opening hours, store location, or items that you have in stock.

Similarly, AdWords can also show you how many people clicked to get directions to your physical store. This means they were actively wanting to visit you to make an in store purchase.

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Geolocation and geo-tagging play a huge role here, too. You can analyse a mobile user’s location when visiting your website together with the actions they performed while on it. From this you can measure conversion rate based on how close consumers were to your physical store. These actions might be a site visitor checking the in store stock of a particular item, visiting the contact page for your address or lingering in the review section on a product description page.

The Shopify Plus platform offers incredibly agile and seamless functionality regardless of where your customer browses and purchases too. From buying online and collecting in-store (or the opposite), to buying in-store and shipping to the customer, to online/offline returns and exchanges, the platform manages it easily!

So there you have it. If you were a bit rusty in the world of online to offline purchasing behaviour before, you are now equipped with some key facts and statistics. You can also see how to use this growing consumer behaviour trend to your advantage.

Need some more help?

So do you need some fresh eyes on your own Shopify Plus store? Read how we can help you grow your store with our bluprint for success programme! It covers optimisation and ongoing support services.

Alternatively, browse our client work for inspiration, sign up to our free eCommerce Replatforming Masterclass, or if you need assistance with a Shopify Plus project of your own, complete our contact form and we’ll give you a call. We would love to help!