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Why ‘place’ still matters for online retailers

After more than 50 years, the 4 Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion – continue to be a popular model to guide marketing strategy.

Place – the distribution of a product – is a critical influencer on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Despite this, many marketers underestimate the importance of Place, with almost half (46 per cent) not even able to correctly name it as one of the 4 Ps, according to recent research.

These days consumers shop smart and seamlessly blur their online and offline shopping experiences. They’ll typically use a number of touchpoints along the purchase journey from discovery to decision, both in-store and online. So as a marketer, where should your focus and investment be? To succeed in 2018, the answer has to be both – online and offline.

Amazon will set a new bar for retailers from 2018, elevating the profile of online shopping, particularly if it sees strong subscriber numbers to Amazon Prime.

However, the retail giant isn’t the be-all and end-all for existing retailers. Instead, there’s an opportunity for retailers with bricks-and-mortar stores to unify their approach, by bolstering their online offering and ensuring it’s well connected with the in-store experience.

Make your website a destination

Consumers shop online to save money (54 per cent), because it’s easy and convenient (50 per cent), and it saves time (49 per cent). They expect an intuitive experience when they’re browsing or shopping; both on desktop, and increasingly, on mobile.

Brands can optimise the web user experience by making sure content is well organised and can be browsed easily, and by using a search engine on their own site.

Serving up recommendations based on what others have purchased or what the viewer has already purchased, using a Look Book on the mobile app, or utilising augmented reality to showcase how a product will look in an actual setting, are also clever ways to inspire the shopper and ultimately boost sales.

The delivery and returns proposition is also important to shoppers. Speed and price of delivery are critical factors influencing their decision to purchase, with consumers ranking free shipping as the third biggest factor overall.

Enabling free returns, or the ability to return in-store is also powerful conversion tool. Pureplay online retailers Asos and The Iconic are a testament to the popularity of free delivery and returns in Australia, enabling consumers to try before they commit to the purchase and providing a more cost-effective and convenient way to shop online.

Optimise the in-store experience

Despite the increasing popularity of shopping online, bricks-and-mortar stores remain the preferred way to shop for almost half (49 per cent) of Australian consumers.

When in-store, almost half (44 per cent) of shoppers say they often or always jump online to inform a potential purchase, such as to research the specifications, compare prices, or read customer reviews.

Although brands won’t likely put a halt to this trend, there are steps they can take to make it easy for consumers to find the information they need, and prevent them from going elsewhere.

Two ways are to use beacon technology via an app, or to include QR codes on the product that can be scanned with a mobile, taking the customer to the product listing on the brand’s website.

Proper training of in-store staff is critical too. It’s important staff don’t see the online channel as a competitor. They should be comfortable, and encouraged to drive traffic to the online store to boost sales for the brand.

Drive customers from one Place to another Place

Loyalty programs can be very effective to capture customer data and tie in the online and offline shopping experiences. By capturing details in-store at the till or online at the shopping cart, brands can get a detailed overview of the customer by feeding purchase information into a CRM platform through e-commerce integration.

Brands can use loyalty programs to inform how they market to specific customers, and to drive them online or offline to influence repeat purchase.

Sampling is another effective strategy to reach new customers offline and accelerate customers’ path to purchase, driving them in-store or online to a unique campaign web page.

Many consumers like to see and feel a product before buying (58 per cent) and immediately discern the quality of an item (43 per cent). Through a product sample, the brand leapfrogs the consumer past the awareness and evaluation stage, effectively taking them closer to decision when incentivised with a discount.

Savvy brands will go one step further by including voucher codes in their samples – creating unique codes by postcode for example – enabling them to collate valuable data and create long-term value from the campaign.

A final strategy is to generate the sale in one Place – online – and push the customer to pick-up in another Place – in-store – where a skilled salesperson can work to upsell or cross-sell complementary products to the customer.

The advantage with this strategy is that upon arrival in-store, the customer is already committed to the product, and a consultation can potentially influence a higher spend when they arrive in store.

Place must remain front of mind when considering marketing strategy. Marketers should look to unify and optimise both their in-store and online experiences to better serve customers, boost sales and ultimately remain competitive in 2018 and beyond.

Ben Popplestone is head of Netstarter, the digital agency for marketing services firm Salmat.

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