Assessing the Offline Impact of Online Research

It’s important to understand the full impact of your Web channel. How does it impact offline conversion? What impact does it have on other channels? How is social media affecting the preconceptions of your customers and prospects, and how can you leverage that insight? I’ve examined those questions in columns over the past few months.

Recently, I saw a great eMarketer report, “Online Research Drives Offline Sales,” which quantified some of that offline value of related online purchases and research.

We all use the Web as a form of research; we all use e-commerce sites as a form of research. I rely heavily on sites like Amazon even if I don’t intend to buy the product online. For my research, I’ll often check out a few products on Amazon because it’s one of the most consistent sites with actual helpful reviews with the widest range of products.

I was recently in the market for a new blender after my previous one died from about six months of light use. I went into a brick-and-mortar chain and found three models that looked good. I selected one, put it in my cart, and headed toward the checkout counter.

Because I had been burned by my previous blender purchase, I grabbed my BlackBerry, went to Amazon’s site, and found that users gave the model I had chosen terrible reviews and a score of two out of five stars. So I went back to the aisle, checked a few other blenders, and found one that received a fair amount of decent reviews. In this case, Amazon wasn’t going to convert me to the sale unless there was a huge price difference because I wanted the blender for the coming weekend.

Many other people use the Web for the same type of research, but spend significantly more time investigating higher priced items. Google is the most common way people start their research process. How many of you have fired off a Google search and then opened up 10 tabs based on the results in the search that looked interesting? You take about five seconds on each tab (if that) to decide if you want to invest any additional time on that site.

A few interesting stats from the eMarketer study:

  • For every $1 in online sales, the Internet influenced $3.45 of store sales. The study talked about online consumers becoming “precision shoppers,” leveraging the wealth of information online to research, compare, hear what others are saying, and make their buying decisions.
  •’s “eHoliday Mood Study” showed that 63 percent of U.S. online buyers made their holiday purchases in two or even three retail channels during the 2007 holiday shopping season.
  • According to eMarketer estimates, when Web-influenced store sales and e-commerce sales are combined they accounted for 15 percent of retail sales in 2007. By 2012, the percentage will nearly double to 28 percent. In contrast, Forrester Research reported that Web-influenced store sales plus e-commerce sales accounted for 27 percent of retail sales in 2007 — almost twice eMarketer’s estimate.

So what impact does all of this have on your Web site and how you analyze performance? It should impact the way you’re looking at how people convert or what they do on your site. This just makes it that much more important to understand what your visitors’ intentions are when they visit your site. By looking at this and understanding it, you can often begin to find ways to tune the message to get more people engaged in your site.

A great place to start is using the new free 4Q survey tool that iPerceptions recently released with Avinash Kaushik (focusing on four questions that should always be asked). This is just a start, but a great start. It can help you begin to understand the “why” behind some of your visitor’s behaviors. If you haven’t asked your audience these questions before, you may be quite surprised.

Also, focus on messaging correctly to your audience. If you can segment your audience based on how they access your site — if they find you through Google by typing in a product name with the word “review,” you better deliver a product page with reviews front and center. Test compelling calls to action to get them to buy from you and not the site waiting in the browser’s next tab.

Remember: visitors are in control and have plenty of places to buy products you’re selling, and they’re relying more on what their peers are saying about your products, making the Web the perfect place for them to do research. If you can solve the way to message correctly to the different audiences that make up this group, it will lead to much greater success online.

While this is great to see and be able to quantify, the eMarketer study only covers significant e-commerce sites. When we look at other types of sites — like manufacturers sites that may have e-commerce, lead generation sites, as well as sites for real estate, automotive, etc. — it’s still difficult to know the value they’re driving for most companies. If you find yourself in this category, review some of my past columns on monetizing site behaviors to get started.

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