Online Research Drives In-Store Sales

Do shoppers give your website a thumbs up or a thumbs down? Some home improvement retailers don’t invest heavily in building a robust website because they believe it negatively impacts sales in their brick-and-mortar business. However, two studies indicate having a great website has the opposite effect. The days are long gone when a customer drops by the local hardware store to buy an expensive tool, sight unseen. By the time the person arrives, they’ve done plenty of online research and read lots of reviews posted by people who have purchased the same product. Researching products online is now an essential step on the path to purchase.

ROBO Economy (Research Online Buy Offline) Report
According to a report published by Bazarrvoice, 82 percent of smartphone users check out products on their phone, and 45 percent read reviews before buying a product in-store. The categories with ROBO scores higher than 50 percent for product research were automotive, hardware, electronics, wearable tech, health and beauty, toys, and games. The report shows a correlation between research and purchase behavior—for every dollar spent online, almost $5 is spent in-store.

Home improvement retailers are sometimes slow to connect online research to the growth of in-store sales because they desire to maintain a separation between e-commerce and their in-store operation. Sara Spivey, Bazaarvoice CM0, says, “That siloed behavior is also beginning to change. I would say, overall, the idea that the two have to work together is more embraced.”

J.D. Power Study
The impact of online research is also emphasized In the J.D. Power 2019 Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction Study. Forty-one percent of customers say they research or shop online before making an in-store purchase. More importantly, these customers spend an average of $620 more per year than shoppers who just come by the store.

“The proliferation of home-improvement related sites, services, and tutorials on the web create a complex set of challenges and opportunities for brick-and-mortar home improvement retailers,” said Christina Cooley, At Home Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power. “Online retailers do introduce new competition, but when traditional retailers get their online/offline formula right, they can really differentiate by offering a level of personalized knowledge and expertise that cannot be replicated in an online-only environment. Many retailers still have work to do to, though, when it comes to creating satisfying online experiences.

Homeowners are always searching for products and creative ideas to beautify and improve their indoor and outdoor spaces.  That’s why home improvement websites are their favorite sources of information. However,  these websites have an opportunity to increase overall satisfaction by incorporating techniques used by other online sites. The results below are based on a 1,000-point scale.

  • Home improvement retailer website (821)
  • Manufacturer websites (832)
  • Social networking sites (869)

Timely Assistance Matters
Providing quick assistance to customers who shop in-store directly impacts their level of satisfaction. According to the J.D. Power study, home improvement retailers who help shoppers within two minutes increase overall customer satisfaction by 67 points. However, only 26 percent of customers receive this level of service—a two-percentage points decline from the prior year study.

Ace and True Value Rank Highest
The study asked 2,433 customers who purchased home improvement products within a 12-month period to rate their shopping experience.  They rated five factors  (merchandise, price, sales and promotion, staff and service; and store facility).  Ace Hardware and True Value ranked highest with a score of 840 on a 1,000-point scale, followed by Lowes with a score of 834. One of the differentiators that customers cited relative to high-performing stores was a knowledgeable sales staff who could explain product features and benefits.

Maximizing Sales
Delivering an exceptional shopping experience often begins online with product research and ends with an in-store purchase. Be sure to offer customers enough information to help them make an informed buying decision, and to provide a level of service that distinguishes your store from competitors.

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