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When What You See is Not What You Get: The Impact of Online Research on Offline Purchase Intentions

Relevant topics Archive, Conversion

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Customers are less likely to purchase a product offline after online research due to heightened product expectations.
  • Application:
    Find out how to increase the likelihood of offline sales by aligning online and offline customer experiences.
  • How often do you research a product online before going to the physical shop to make your purchase? Most modern-day shoppers can no longer live without the so-called process of webrooming.

    In fact, at least 74% of shoppers are webroomers. Almost half of webroomers do so because of a need for touch (NFT): the desire to feel, touch or smell a product before making the decision to buy.

    Understanding such cross-channel customer experiences is a must for modern-day retailers. Get ready to find out just how going through online shopping windows and the need for touch influence customers’ in-store shopping behavior.

    What a shopper’s brain is looking for

    Let’s get inside the mind of a customer. Imagine you’re on an online hunt for the perfect product. You type, click, scroll. You read, compare, consider. During your hunt, you come across a lot of information. Perhaps a little too much information…

    If you would focus on all attributes of the sought-after product, it would create an overkill of information. It may give you some stress. Or a minor headache. That’s why your mind will deliberately narrow down your attention to the elements that are most crucial, essential, and important for your purchase.

    Will this blanket feel soft? Will the textile of this blouse be thin enough for summer days? Will this phone case be tough enough so I can safely drop my phone another 10.000 times? Your focus shifts to the goal-critical attribute of a product to determine whether product X or Y will serve your needs.

    Expectations vs. reality

    Let’s imagine you have been dreaming for weeks about a new cozy pair of pajamas. After some online browsing, you finally lay your eyes on a decent pair. You carefully read the detailed product description, glance at the professional pictures, and read some of the customer reviews on the product page. You are pretty sure you picked the best and softest pajamas out there. Now it’s time to pick it up at the store! 

    You enter the store full of expectations, walk straight to the right aisle, ready to pick up the pajamas of your dreams. You reach for the product, touch its material and… hmm. This texture doesn’t feel like expected. Not so soft after all… And it certainly doesn’t feel like something you would like to buy.

    Meanwhile, another customer who didn’t do any online research comes standing next to you. They hold up the product. Stroke the fabric. And to your surprise, they ask you: “Isn’t this pair of pajamas incredibly soft?! Like a baby’s bottom. And it isn’t even real silk!” While they decide to buy the pair of pajamas, you exit the store empty-handed.

    The expectation confirmation-disconfirmation paradigm

    This example of your imaginary cross-channel shopping journey shows that webrooming resembles the expectation confirmation-disconfirmation paradigm. Webrooming has increased your expectations of the most important attribute of the product: softness. Which makes you believe it’s less soft than it is to non-webroomers.

    But be aware that this effect only occurs when the customer experiences a moderate to high need for touch. When customers really want to feel the softness of that pair of pajamas they saw online, their dreams are easily shattered. So how can a retailer live up to those high expectations?

    Keep it real

    Online retailers should start off easy with the expectations they set. How? Just keep it real! Make sure that what customers see, is what customers get.

    Exaggerating a product’s qualities online will not lead to more sales of that product offline. After all, it creates higher expectations and thus, a higher chance of in-store disappointment.

    That’s why online retailers should ask themselves: Does the information on product pages reflect the quality of the physical products’ attributes? Do product pictures adequately show the texture of products? The key is to make customers feel like they can physically touch, smell, see or taste the actual product although they are just browsing online.

    Zoomed-in pictures of a product offer a great way to show the customer just what they can expect when they will touch the physical product. If you want to step up your game and get ahead of the competition, you may consider modern technologies such as virtual and augmented reality.

    Create a seamless cross-channel experience

    The next step is to start thinking about aligning the online and offline phases of the customer journey. One suggestion made by the authors of the paper is to use in-store reminders of the online product. What about in-store displays that show customers on which attributes the product is superior compared to other products they saw online?

    Another suggestion is to unify online and offline data to identify when and why customers do not convert after webrooming. For example, an in-store tablet asking for customer feedback on products. Or an online customer loyalty service, which allows customers to save products on a wish list (on app or desktop) and monitors their in-store purchases (via a store loyalty card).

    The synchronization of all online and offline channels is a must-have if retail businesses want to stay ahead of competitors. An effective omnichannel approach is what will define successful retail businesses in the future.

    Take home points:

    • Webroomers with a moderate to high need for touch are less likely to purchase in-store than non-webroomers due to higher expectations of a product’s quality.
    • Increase the likelihood of sales by adequately showing customers what they can expect from the physical product and by aligning online and offline customer experiences.
  • When What You See is Not What You Get: The Impact of Online Research on Offline Purchase Intentions
  • Reference:

    Chung, S., Cho, C. K., & Chakravarti, A. (2022). It is different than what I saw online: Negative effects of webrooming on purchase intentions. Psychology & Marketing, 39(1), 131-149.

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