Why are Reviews Essential for Research Online, Purchase Offline?

The internet has changed how many of us shop, but in an increasing complex retail world, have retailers really considered the modern customer journey?


In this week’s blog we’re going to explore the Research Online, Purchase Offline (ROPO) phenomena which is all about how customers get their information about products/services they’re interested in purchasing and how they then use that information to inform their buying decisions – in-store, offline. It’s safe to say that if you’re involved in retail in any way, shape or form you’ll want to read more as we discuss how your online presence impacts your offline sales.


In the not-so-distant past there wasn’t an online part to retail purchases at all. If you wanted to buy something you went in-store, talked to a salesperson to understand key features and benefits, maybe asked a close friend or two for their opinion and possibly looked up some reviews (where available).


Not anymore!


Now all a customer has to do before purchasing an item is search “[product name] review” on Google/YouTube/Facebook etcetera and press ‘enter’. They’ll soon be looking at more information on that product, and comparison products, than they can shake a stick at; quite literally page after page of information including product reviews. In other words, customers now do the lion’s share of their research online themselves. In fact Bazaarvoice reported 56% of online shoppers read at least one review before making a purchase whilst other surveys  show that up to 88% of customers’ research online before making a purchase.


At this point many customers will take the information they’ve found and purchase online, however, depending on the product/service customers may still need to go in-store and this is where the ‘Purchase Offline’ part of ROPO comes into play. So, if you’re not considering the ROPO phenomenon in your sales, marketing, advertising and pricing strategies you could be missing a very significant trick!


Example: if you want to boost your online sales and don’t consider the ROPO effect, you may discontinue advertising all products/services that don’t result in a high volume of sales online. When you do consider the ROPO phenomenon though, you might notice that certain products/services – running shoes for example or professional services – might perform poorly online but drive a high number of customer in-store visits.


What should you do?


Well by adjusting your marketing strategy to take into consideration the ROPO phenomenon you’ll be opening up a whole new world of possibilities because you’ll start to see your online store becoming an extension of your offline store and vice versa rather than two completely separate entities – which is how many retails do still see them. In short, optimising for ROPO can have an enormous positive impact on your sales. However, not all products/services (categories) are equally influenced by the ROPO phenomenon. In general high ROPO categories will contain products with a certain ‘feel’ quality. Here’s a, by no means, exhaustive list;


  • Fashion – extremely susceptible to the ROPO phenomenon because unless you’re confident of your exact size/fit customers still want to try on clothes/shoes before they buy. A recent survey found that 56% of customers want to see and touch items before they buy and 55% actually wanted to try items on and see how they fit before purchasing
  • Beauty – again a high ROPO phenomenon and similar to fashion. There are many customers who just really enjoy the experience of going in-store to buy their beauty products
  • Sports retail – heavily influenced by ROPO because many customers want to try the product before making their final purchasing decision (trying on running shoes for example)
  • Household items – both large and small household items have been found responsive to ROPO. These kind of products aren’t necessarily needed/used every day but when the need does arise it’s likely that it’s needed now! Walk into a shop, purchase, go home. No waiting around for the delivery person!
  • Furniture and lighting – another high ROPO category. For many customers they find it difficult to really evaluate the look and feel of these pieces without seeing them in the flesh as it were. The higher the price the more likely it is that a customer will want to see it for themselves before purchasing



So, how do you optimise for ROPO?


  1. Determine which products are most influenced by the ROPO phenomenon. You do that by thinking about your customers and their journey through your store. Ask yourself why are they purchasing your products/services?
  2. Find the optimum online price for those products. This price should, ideally, be lower or at least in line with your biggest competitor. The goal is to have these products proudly displayed on comparison shopping engines so customers can see that you carry the product.
  3. Adjust, as necessary, your online marketing strategy. Remember, the goal is for your product/service to appear at the top of search results to let interested customers know that you carry the product/service they’re looking for! That will almost certainly mean reviewing your online review strategy because, as we said at the very start of this blog, customers are searching for information on products/services and a lot of that information comes to them via online reviews. With regard to your online review strategy (and several of our blogs go into much greater depth on various aspects of online reviews and online review strategies);
    • Concentrate on building positive reviews. Did you know that some studies have shown that up to 70% of people will leave a review if asked?
    • Respond to negative reviews quickly (ideally within 24 hours of the review being left)
    • DON’T ever be tempted to cheat and create fake reviews!

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