What is ROPO (Research Online Pay Offline) and how can it be measured?
The practice of researching a product online before purchasing it in a shop is one that most of us engage in. Indeed, a 2018 study found that 82% of smartphone users turn to their phones for information on a product they’re about to buy in-store.
But eCommerce businesses are struggling to get to grips with this growing customer behaviour trend of ROPO, or “Research Online Pay Offline”. With an average of 69% of online shopping carts abandoned by users, how can marketers convince customers to research products and make their purchase online?
Furthermore, how can the rate of ROPO – something notoriously difficult to pin down with omnichannel interaction – be measured?
In this article I will address the issue of ROPO, how it can be measured, and how customers might be persuaded to buck the trend and buy online.
What drives customers towards ROPO?
In the search for the perfect product, customers clearly see ROPO as providing the best of both worlds: online research gives more information and the ability to compare, whereas going to a shop reassures the customer that they know exactly what they’re paying for.
Key reasons given by customers for preferring an in-store rather than a digital purchase include: they can touch and try out the product, they can get the product straight away, and they will be more certain about the product’s suitability.
For many customers, it seems that nothing can replace the actual experience of browsing in a shop: for example, the multi-sensory experience of the cosmetics counter in a department store or the cheese counter in a delicatessen.
As we’ll discuss in more detail later, eCommerce businesses must work hard to provide an enjoyable web experience, in order to keep customers – and their cash – in the digital space.
Strategies for measuring ROPO
The task of measuring how many customers research a product online and then proceed to buy it offline remains incredibly complex. There is no single easy and reliable metric to track whether online marketing efforts result in offline sales. Thus, eCommerce businesses struggle to maintain a connection to user behaviour once they’ve left the website.
Nonetheless, with more sophisticated analytics tools, it is also becoming possible to predict ROPO behaviour with greater accuracy. And for businesses that feature both online and bricks-and-mortar stores, new technologies are becoming available to analyse the movements of their customers.
Here are some solutions that businesses are turning to:
ROPO soft conversion monitoring: Using web analytics you can get a good idea of how many users leave your website with an intention to purchase in-store. For example, if a user exits your site from the page with shop opening hours or directions there’s a high probability they are aiming to make an offline purchase. An exit survey could also help obtain this information.
Digital marketing strategies: With a tool such as Google Ads, you can monitor user response to ads. For example, if a user clicks on an ad to obtain more product information or store directions from your website but does not make an online purchase, this is a strong indication of intention to buy in-store.
Closing the ROPO loop: In order to measure a customer’s purchasing behaviour on- and offline, a unique ID is required – for example, a loyalty card, email address, or app. The seller can then get a very accurate picture of the customer’s shopping habits on their website and in-store. Google Analytics now provides this User-ID feature.
If the trend of using mobile phones as a payment method continues to rise, it may become much easier to track the ROPO effect; depending on privacy regulations of course.
Online fixes to retain customers and prevent them going offline
So, if you want to overcome the ROPO effect and keep your customers online, what kind of strategies could you put in place? Here are my top suggestions:
Create detailed product pages: Customers are looking for the ideal product and they’re afraid of being misled online. Reassure them by going into detail about each product, and provide photos from multiple different angles. Update the product availability regularly.
Educate and inform: If customers are, as we know, already seeking information about products online before purchasing – make the most of this. Impress them with the depth of knowledge you can provide on your website and your desire to help them achieve their goals.
Offer free shipping and returns: Compete with the immediacy of in-store purchasing by emphasising the convenience and cost-effectiveness of your product delivery. Make sure this is well-advertised on your site, and also display customer reviews that praise your delivery service.
Build trust and interact: Cultivate a social media presence online as an effective way of building trust in your brand and allowing you to interact with customers. You could even consider producing a podcast with further information and advice about your products.
Make your site mobile-friendly: As more and more consumers use their smartphones to browse products, ensure your site is optimally functional for mobile.
Keep shopping simple: Reduce the steps from product selection to conversion, perhaps by remembering a customer’s details or simplifying the payment form. If the customer finds it easy to shop online with you, they’re less likely to pick the traditional alternative.
A highly-optimised website is undoubtedly eCommerce’s secret weapon against ROPO trends.
The ROPO effect is an ongoing challenge for eCommerce businesses. It can be frustrating to see users taking advantage of a website’s features without proceeding to purchase from it. And there are aspects of traditional retail that simply can’t be replicated online.
Nevertheless, online retailers still have the power to create an engaging web experience that can win a customer’s loyalty and convince them to buy online. It’s important to continually assess the performance of your website at achieving conversion and invest in CRO accordingly.
In the meantime, new technologies are allowing businesses to measure ROPO with increasing accuracy, and with user-ID tools some retailers are already making connections between their customers’ online and offline shopping habits.
While ROPO may not be disappearing any time soon, businesses can potentially turn it to their advantage – if they can close the ROPO loop.
Charlie Carpenter is the co-founder and CEO of Kite. He is a mobile advocate with over ten years of industry experience. After working for large and small agencies for many years, he co-founded Kite; a software solution for print-on-demand, zero inventory merchandise, and personalised photo print goods. As well as an entrepreneur, Charlie is a seasoned product strategist with experience of various types of digital projects which include: Responsive and Adaptive Websites, Mobile & Tablet Apps, Hybrid Apps, Cross Platform App development. You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter.