Research Online > Research Offline > Buy Online?

By David Levy, Associate Director, Strategic Partnerships

Yup, you heard me. Research online, research offline, buy online. Not exactly what we, as search marketers, preach to our clients on a daily basis. In fact, even Google thinks you’re crazy when you search the term “research offline, buy online.”

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Google Results: Research Offline, Buy Online

Let me tell you why this is top of mind for me. This past weekend, my wife and I were shopping for a new bed – a Tempur-Pedic. As many of you may know, these are extremely comfortable, but also extremely expensive. So, we decided that we needed to physically lie on several different models before purchasing.

My first step was to find locations in Chicago that sold Tempur-Pedic’s. So, I searched “Tempur-Pedic”, clicked on’s paid listing, and found locations close to our home. We then spent the better part of our Saturday morning laying on all of the different models they had in the store. We quickly decided to buy – until our very helpful sales rep told us the price. So, naturally I asked, “what if we buy it online?” Being the helpful rep she was, she looked up the price and determined that if we bought from, we would not only get a lower delivery fee, but we’d also save significantly on sales tax (Chicago’s 10.25% sales tax is lovely, no?). So what did I do? I ran back home, searched “Tempur-Pedic” again (because I’m lazy), clicked on the natural listing this time, and ultimately converted into a sale.

What are the implications to marketers here? Ultimately, it comes down to attribution. To Tempur-Pedic (if they’ve got their bid management/web analytics tools fully leveraged), this sale looked like a visitor who clicked on their paid listing, did some research, came back on a subsequent search and converted into a sale. What gets lost here is the impact of the sales rep as I conducted my offline research. This is tricky. Measuring online research to offline purchasing is hard enough, and data at this point is directional at best. The inverse of this is even more difficult.

In this recessionary economy, consumers will go to great (and sometimes inconvenient) lengths to save a buck. Maybe this down economy is just what marketers, agencies, media vendors, and technology providers need in order to come together and start to solve this attribution issue. The Atlas Institute is starting down this path, as are others. Ultimately, tracking the buying cycle and accurately measuring attribution will never happen until the entire purchase experience is digital – from researching, to considering, to buying – including ads that are engaged with along the way. But, until Minority Report becomes the world in which we live, we need to start somewhere. For example, maybe we not only need coupons that can be downloaded online and taken offline, but also unique codes that can be distributed within stores to use in an online purchase to note that the store played a role in the sale. Or, maybe it’s as simple as adding a step into the shopping cart process to ask the consumer if they researched in a store (not directly attributable to a specific store, but it’s a start). This may cause some abandonment, but might it be worth it to find that the majority of your customers are researching offline? Maybe. There are many ways we can start to address this, and I’d love to hear what you think…

All I know is that my head is starting to hurt, but luckily no longer my back!


Fred said...

In store kiosk self checkout. The sales reps can hand out coupons with their code on it for a special offer: could be a discount or could be a value add/ lagniappe.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear your back is feeling better.

Also, there's a recent Forrester Reearch article regarding this very topic and is in support of your take. The piece, "How To Stimulate Consumers To Buy Online," found that, "One consumer out of two mixes online and offline channels to research their purchases." That's a lot of cross channel collaboration!

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