Posted: Monday 26th March 2012 in eCommerce Technology, Thought Leadership.

Your website is more than your biggest store - it’s a giant funnel filled with customers.

Online marketing has come of age. Now it needs to tie the knot with offline sales, says Hedley Aylott.

I’m no great football fan but, at Old Trafford the other night, I cast my eyes around the stadium and appreciated for the first time what 74,000 people actually looks like in real life, rather than on a spreadsheet. Now, 74,000 is an interesting number. It might be the number of visitors who come to your website each week. But how many of them buy? Maybe 1,500?

1,500 buyers translates to a 2% conversion and, truth is, that’s the kind of statistic you can expect directly from your website. I used to believe that this was about as satisfactory as a lettuce sandwich to a lunching lion because those people sought out your site. They made an active decision to go there.

They wanted to buy, like small boys want to be Spiderman. But statistics can be misleading.


At Summit, we work at the cutting-edge of digital marketing. And I can tell you that for many of those 98% of visitors who go AWOL, your website was not the end of the journey. In fact, for perhaps 50% of them and up to 70% for consumer electronics, it was just the start. While it will pay you to understand why those customers abandoned their shopping carts on the hard shoulder of the digital highway, if you’re a multichannel retailer, you have to understand that there’s a huge opportunity just waiting to be seized.

You see, at Summit, we’re overwhelmed with research that tells us that many of those missing-in-action customers actually completed their retail journey in your store or call centre, or by catalogue. That means that the true conversion rate from those 74,000 weekly visitors could be as high as 20%, with the website acting purely as a springboard for the extra 18% during the research phase of the buying process.

All well and good. But many retailers aren’t taking advantage of their website as a sales enabler. The mistaken idea that the website is a retailer’s ‘biggest store’ still prevails. What’s more, many web teams are set up to compete with the rest of the business. They’re judged on sales that result directly from the site using ROI, CPA and direct-sales metrics. There’s no allowance made for offline sales accrued as a result of starting the journey online. Two competing lines on a P & L from a single customer journey isn’t a great idea.

In fact, in our experience, there’s often no clear responsibility for populating websites with features that drive customers from their screens into the stores, or for measuring the resulting traffic. That’s a great shame because, with some creative thinking, there’s a link there to be exploited. Your conversion rate from your website is probably already much better than you think from in-store sales. Just imagine how much more effective it could be if you started to get customers there by design. Multichannel retailers in fact have a significant advantage over our much-loved, price-led ‘Pure Plays’ if this link is exploited.

Check and reserve

Consider this: the check-and-reserve function for multichannel retailers such as Argos has seen strong growth in revenues. Indeed, Summit’s search campaigns for Argos and other multichannel retailers are the last to be switched off at Christmas, with customers who’ve researched online collecting goods in-store right up to Christmas Eve.

Argos is a great role model, and other multichannel retailer websites needing help with offline sales could do worse than pinch a few ideas. Some of the questions customers need answering include: Is this product in stock in my nearest store? Where is my nearest store? Can I reserve one to look at? Who can I speak to at the store to answer my questions? Can I have directions to the store? How will I get it home (presuming it’s not an electric scooter)? Where’s the product located in store? Basic questions but, if answered, they make your brand look slicker than a North Sea oil spillage.

The thing is, measuring and capitalising on the connection between online and offline purchasing behaviour should be relatively straight forward. Here are a few ideas:

Pre-purchase surveys

Pre-purchase surveys are easy, cost-effective and generate real insight, particularly on heavily researched products. Studies consistently show that online is the most important channel during the research phase.

Voucher redemption

Voucher redemption in-store can turn cooler customers into committed buyers, particularly if your product needs a store visit. Link the printout to a specific product, store location and aisle number and Robert’s your dad’s brother. Data analysis can separate the ‘online effect’.

Post-purchase promotion

Customers love an offer, and post-purchase promotion can drive customers online and allow you to grab some vital customer insight. Just ask a few questions to activate the promotion. Better still, add some credit to their online account. Free money is rarely sniffed at.

Online accounts

Collect customer data and get your customers to love you by setting up an online account from the till. You can then follow up store purchases with a helpful email ‘Thanks for shopping with us… here’s how to exchange if you’re not entirely satisfied’ etc. You get the idea.

So, hook up the website with the POS and a single unified customer database to join the dots between online marketing activity and web analytics data. You’ll get an accurate picture of customer behaviour across all channels, while measuring the influence of online marketing to foot-fall.

Who said last click wins?

In addition, you can – and must – measure ‘weighted sale’, showing the entire click journey that led to the purchase. This might not be the last click; three to five search terms could have contributed to the sale. For example, the customer might have started out searching for ‘LCD TV’. This could have led to ‘Sony 42” LCD TV’, which led them to your site and to make the purchase. But the initial ‘search phrase’ played a key part in the sale, so don’t ditch those keywords – yes, it will drive down cost, but hurt your volume. ‘Weighted sale’ tracking will give you a great insight into the interaction between the different online channels and reduce campaign costs by typically around 30%.

However, don’t be fooled by tracking companies that claim to provide this service. You’ll need a PhD in applied maths to work out the financial contribution of each ‘click’ and channel. Summit can help here – we’ve developed tools that ‘tune’ and optimise weighted sales campaigns.

In summary, a retail website is more than just your largest till and your web team needs to be judged on more than just online sales. They need a way of tracking clicks into store visits and voucher redemptions, and they need to introduce weighted-sale tracking.

Never forget that, online, your web team are your biggest ambassadors and they need to be incentivised accordingly. In short, they need a wider remit, a sensible team structure, decent technology – and possibly a larger salary, but I’ll leave that part to you.

Remember, to maximise sales across channels:

  • Implement ‘weighted sale’ tracking across your online marketing
  • Trial different offers across online and offline channels and measure behaviour
  • Implement surveys to capture opinion and respond to the findings
  • Join up the data across your sales channels
  • Don’t think of the web as your biggest store – it’s a giant funnel filled with customers.