The influence of online activities on in store sales


by Terena Chetty. Online shopping has increased tremendously over the last few years, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even prior to the health crisis, many developed countries had relatively high levels of online shopping of above 50% of internet users, according to UNCTAD – United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

But over and above direct online purchasing, what impact does online activities have on actual in-store purchasing behaviour? While projections show that more people will be heading into stores this festive season, in-store shoppers are still highly influenced by online factors. Here’s why:

  • Research: A study conducted by GE Capital Retail Bank revealed that 81% of retail shoppers conduct research online before buying. This means that even shoppers who ultimately purchase from brick-and-mortar stores first go online to find out more about products prior to purchasing. As consumers become increasingly discerning and astute when it comes to purchasing decisions, we can expect to see this figure rise. This means that the accuracy and quality of online information should be a key focus, even for brands that prioritise in-store shopper experiences.
  • Cost comparison: Part of the above research includes comparing costs. Where previously shoppers would pop into a few relevant stores (usually within the same geographic vicinity) to compare prices, consumers now have a plethora of options at their fingertips. This makes price point a highly competitive factor – the fact that internet browsers have a built-in “shopping” search option bears testimony to that. Without leaving their couch, a shopper can identify which retailers have the best price option on the item they require.
  • Reviews: Over 90% of consumers read online reviews prior to visiting or using a business, making positive online reviews a defining factor when it comes to business success. This relates not only to the product or service being reviewed, but also in terms of overall consumer trust in the brand itself. While recommendations by friends or family remains one of the best forms of referral, research by Big Commerce indicates that 88% of consumers (including in-store shoppers), trust online reviews as much as testimonials by people known to them.
  • Omnichannel: Omnichannel marketing relates to the integration of various marketing touchpoints (both online and offline) into brand marketing campaigns. The entire premise of an omni-channel approach is an understanding that online brand content influences offline consumer decisions, and vice versa. Consistency of messaging is vital in order to ensure a seamless customer journey, meaning that online activities have to take into account the offline (in-store) consumer experience.
  • Using mobile in store: An interesting trend is the use of smartphones while shopping in store, with the most frequent use being to access the retailer’s website or app. According to the Airship Mobile Customer Imperative report 2021, 75% of millennials are likely to use a retailer’s app in store. This includes researching a product or looking up pricing and other information – basically acting as a substitute for talking to an actual customer service person face-to-face. In fact, some retail stores are even providing their staff with in store apps such as barcode scanners that they can use to check prices on without the need for a static or mobile price-check scanning unit.

According to the 2022 South African Digital Customer Experience Report, online influence on offline purchases is indisputable. The report revealed that digital channels – such as online reviews, search engines and personalised communications – trumped conventional marketing methods such as adverts, flyers and in-store advice. The study took into account both consumer and retailer perspectives, and insights gained support the notion that regardless of where a transaction takes place, online experiences influence consumer end purchases. Quoted in the report, Liz Hillock, head of online & mobile for Woolworths, said, “Although our ecommerce offer has one of the highest online contribution rates in South Africa, it is a fraction of what our digital platforms are aiding in terms of in store purchases. Over 60% of our online browsers claim to buy in store, and this reinforces our focus to lead in omnichannel retail.”

The key takeaway for brands is ensuring a seamless integrated consumer experience across in-store and digital touchpoints. This means that a brand’s online presence should not only focus on ecommerce (online buyers), but factor instore consumers in as well. Conversely, brands with predominantly in store customers should not neglect digital activities that influence in store purchasing behaviour. As the festive season looms and far more consumers head into stores, as compared to recent pandemic-affected festive periods, retailers can maximise on this peak period by making certain that holistic customer experience is central to brand strategies.


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Terena Chetty is head of strategy at 1Africa Consulting, and has extensive experience in public relations (PR), integrated brand strategy and consumer communications. She works closely with both pan-African and global brands, and holds a BA Degree in Communication Science (cum laude).



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