Online-offline integration really works
According to the Journal of Retailing, the online-offline integration means providing access to and knowledge about the physical store at the Internet store.
The research conducted by the authors of the concept confirms that connecting e-commerce and retail stores results in the increase of competitive advantage and causes no conflict between online and physical stores’ business interests. It was proven that an integrated online-offline shopping experience does not affect the clients’ willingness to pay across channels. All these facts sum up to one conclusion: one can only benefit from connecting their online store to the physical retail network.
There are several means to implement the online-offline Integration:
- Store finder
- Physical store inventory visibility
- Click & Collect
- Click & Reserve
- Online returns and claims at physical stores
Let’s discuss them one by one and find out how they work.
A store finder, or store locator, allows to browse physical stores from the level of an e-store, search them (e.g. by the city or ZIP code) and choose the one that is the closest to the customer. It may include such information as:
- opening hours
- contact information (phone and email)
- information on available services, e.g. Click & Collect, online returns, changing rooms, parking, etc.
- a link to navigation services, e.g. in Google Maps
- the store’s picture gallery or a virtual walk, e.g. using Google Street View
- a link to local promotions and deals
- a link to the store’s inventory
The store locator not only helps the e-commerce site users to find the retailer’s stores, but also increases the credibility of the online store. It gives customers the assurance of a reliable business and a guarantee that if something goes wrong, they will be able to go and interact with the personnel directly. By making retail stores known and easier to find, the store locator can both increase the traffic to retail stores and positively influence conversion rates in e-commerce.
Physical store inventory visibility
The visitors of online stores may be fond of shopping there, but for different reasons, some of them prefer to collect the purchased items at a physical store. To make such customers convert on the online store, the physical store inventory visibility is a perfect feature. It helps the customer to decide whether to order online or to go to the store, with a chance to try the item on or simply see if it meets their expectations.
If a retailer focuses on driving traffic and conversions at the physical stores, it’s a good practice to make the local inventory accessible from a high navigation level, e.g. from the product listings, category page or even from the home page. IKEA is a good example here. Once a visitor chooses the nearest store, the store engine filters and displays products on the webpage based on their availability in that store.
Click & Collect
Click & Collect describes the option to pick up an e-commerce order at the retail store.
This delivery option offers many benefits for the customers:
- Convenience. Many shoppers do not want to use courier service for different reasons, e.g. because they are not available in typical delivery hours. At the same time, they can drop by the store any time that suits them.
- Safety. From the psychological point of view, Click & Collect is the safest delivery option. The purchase happens in the actual retail store and the customer may see the product before paying for it.
- Speed. If the product ordered via Click & Collect is sold from the physical store inventory, it may be available for pickup the same day or even the same hour. No other method is faster than this one.
- Value. The orders to the retailer’s store are typically free of charge. Therefore, many value-focused customers chose to pick their purchase up in store and save on the courier service.
Studies show that on developed e-commerce markets, such as the UK, one third of all e-commerce orders may be completed via Click & Collect.
Click & Reserve
Click & Reserve describes the option to reserve a product at a retail store from an e-commerce site. It means that the reserved product in the retail store will be available only for this particular customer.
This option is especially beneficial for those customers who know exactly what they’re looking for and want to be sure that the chosen item will be available in store upon arrival. These savvy shoppers know how to research products they desire and want to avoid uncertainty when going to a retail store without knowing what they will find there and what to make a purchase quickly.
The difference between Click & Reserve and Click & Collect is that the first one relies on the physical store’s inventory and both payment and pickup take place in store. In the case of Click & Collect, the payment is often handled online.
Online returns & claims at physical stores
Many online stores provide a well-developed return and claim policy, enabling the customer to resign from an unwanted item by filling a simple form and contact the courier to collect the package with an unwanted purchase. But sometimes the issue may get more complicated, e.g. in the case of guarantee claims. The customer may prefer to contact retailer staff personally. This need can be addressed by enabling returns of orders from e-commerce in physical stores.
Most of the online-offline integration features described above require an integrated purchase database between e-commerce and physical stores. Such a solution will also make it possible to track orders from online stores and respond to return claims at any physical store. Providing the clients with the ability to get what they want quickly and easily builds trust and gives a chance of maintaining the profit made with the first purchase.
To sum up, online-offline Integration (e-commerce to retail) allows to increase the service quality of the e-commerce store and reduce the distribution channel risk of buying in e-commerce. It also drives traffic to the retail stores, which makes it beneficial for both channels.
Compared to the potential benefits from implementing the online-offline integration solutions, it’s worth the investment in designing and developing a few additional features in the online store and integrate it with a map of physical retailers.