Insights

What is ‘ROPO’ and How is it Impacting Ecommerce?

In the "Age of the Customer", it's the consumer who controls the buying journey.

Research online purchase offline, known as ROPO, is a very intuitive buzzword. Most people can grasp its meaning through simple contextual clues, but — like most jargon — few people actually understand its full significance.

ROPO ranks among other trending buzzwords such as “artificial intelligence,” “Internet of Things,” and “SEO” as one of the most misunderstood concepts in ecommerce. This confusion should be especially troubling to retailers when you consider just how integral ROPO is to everyday consumer behavior.

Data Source: Google Trends

According to a Google consumer study, most Americans use their digital devices to inform purchasing decisions:

  • Inspiration (43 percent) — Nearly half of consumers do online research at the very beginning of their buyer’s journey.
  • Comparison (36 percent) — Over a third of consumers compare products online.
  • Advice (35 percent) — Many consumers will seek out peer-to-peer or expert opinion before purchasing in store.
  • Purchase Preparation (32 percent) — Many consumers use online research all the way until the end of the sales funnel.

Consumers researching products online before buying in-store has become commonplace. And yet, ROPO engagement continues to confound retail marketers as data scientists scramble to make sense of the enigmatic divide between a consumer’s pre-purchase behavior and their eventual purchasing decision. It turns out that understanding the relationship between online and offline marketing efforts can be more complex than expected.

What is ROPO?

To understand the utility and importance of ROPO you don’t have to look beyond your own shopping behavior, and the fact that over 85% of all retail transactions still take place offline. Did you ever look up online reviews before buying a laptop? When choosing between car brands, did you look up vehicle specifications online? Have you ever checked Rotten Tomatoes before purchasing a movie ticket at the box office?

Any consumer with access to the Internet, which is to say virtually everyone, can answer “yes” to these questions. Product information disseminated by the brand or information shared among buyers in the form of user reviews –– which is arguably even more influential –– inevitably guides users down the sales funnel and informs buying habits. No one wants to feel like they made the wrong purchasing decision, so it’s only natural that a consumer would court a product online before saying “I do” in the store.

The vast major of consumers use their smartphones as an impromptu, personal sales associate during in-person shopping experiences. One study found that 82 percent of consumers consult their smartphones on purchases that they are about to make in-store.

Smartphones are a pipeline of consumer information. Buying habits, product preferences, and more conveniently guide consumers toward the products they want. But, in spite of this rich treasure trove of consumer data, the veritable bounty of omnichannel engagement is easy to miss when companies fail to align online and offline efforts.

Why is ROPO So Difficult for Retailers?

For retailers, ROPO isn’t an exact science. One cause for confusion is that ROPO activity is frustratingly disparate and unpredictable, depending on the industry.

According to Forbes, the online-to-offline journey is entirely product dependent, and consumer-driven. Automotive, health/beauty, and electronics are the most searched consumer products, and around 50 percent of all offline purchases in these industries are preceded by online research. On the other side of the scale, products such as clothing and food are only researched online by 20 percent of prospective buyers.

Many retailers struggle to align their online and offline messaging in any meaningful way. This is, of course, increasingly unsustainable as ROPO continues to influence consumer behavior.

Turning ROPO Into ROI

The trouble with adapting to ROPO is that there is no single, reliable metric to track if online efforts lead to offline sales. Consumer behavior is easily lost in the shuffle of omnichannel interaction, and it’s hard to pinpoint which online initiatives truly lead to in-person purchases.

Instead, ecommerce brands are choosing a different approach: combining multiple data points. It’s possible to shed light on ROPO activity by collecting a variety of interconnected data and analyzing it as a whole, more-telling picture.

Social media, geolocation, mobile payments, in-store inventory, SERP analytics, and CRM systems can all be combined to better complete the ROPO puzzle. By cross-referencing a variety of metrics, brands can better triangulate which digital efforts are translating to in-person business and determine how to adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.

Tracking ROPO will become more sophisticated over time. The aforementioned buzzwords such as AI and machine learning will continue to evolve and eventually make Big Data a more realistic, everyday marketing tool. Until then, retailers and consumer brands can gain a competitive edge by following these three steps:

  1. Accept: Recognize the inherent symbiosis of online/in-store behavior. ROPO is not an anomaly — it’s the norm.
  2. Assess: Make ROPO measurable by considering several different data sets. Everything is connected, and you can learn a lot about your customers by comparing online engagement with in-store sales.
  3. Adapt: Take the above information, recognize procedural gaps that might be inhibiting the buyer’s journey, and adjust your business plan accordingly.

By aligning purchasing channels, brands are empowered to create more targeted campaigns, and, more importantly, trust that their online efforts are connecting with customers and converting interest into sales.