Web-to-store – everyone's talking about it without really understanding what it means. Ropo, Robo, Solomo, Hylomo and so on – even before reaching adolescence, it's already been stuck with a host of nicknames given to it by the web fashionistas. So what's really behind this concept?
Jérémie Herscovic, market expert, and CEO and founder of SoCloz, demystifies the web-to-store concept for us.
L'Atelier: What exactly is web-to-store?
Jérémie Herscovic: Web-to-store describes the behaviour of Internet users who look for information on the web before going out to a shop to make the purchase. Is this a blip on the screen of the online world? No, on the contrary, this trend is a lasting one. In the 90s, when e-commerce was emerging, many sociologists panicked at the idea of a social cataclysm, with nightmare visions of deserted streets full of empty shops. Fifteen years later, no such disaster has befallen high-street retailers and 92.1% of all purchases are still made in-store!
L'Atelier: How do you explain this phenomenon?
Jérémie Herscovic: There are many structural obstacles to online shopping: delivery charges, no way of touching and eyeballing the product, not being able to get it immediately, not being able to obtain advice. Meanwhile, the Internet has become part of our daily lives, with 86.2% of Internet users overwhelming in favour of a network that provides information in two clicks. So the emergence of web-to-store can be explained by the fact that, even though Internet users might search the web for information, the majority will still do their shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores. This is a logical development of e-commerce along its path to maturity, a sort of e-commerce version 2. And this is only the beginning. Nearly 77.3 % of Internet users say that today the Internet has become an essential research tool prior to going out to the store. Web-to-store is more than just a return to physical shopping, it’s driving a change of experience in-store, which is itself becoming more and more digital.
L'Atelier: Have brands understood these new ways of doing things?
Jérémie Herscovic: In 2011, all the French brands and retail chains were talking about web-to-store without ever really understanding how they could incorporate it into their strategies. Since then, the situation has changed. Companies have started to really integrate web-to-store into their strategies. Nevertheless it must be said that the different ways of implementing web-to-store strategy remain rather fuzzy. At the present time, they try out the first way that’s available before fixing on a clear strategy. However there’s a lot of development going on which is providing new solutions.
L'Atelier: What exactly does this new market look like?
Jérémie Herscovic: There’s no one-and-only web-to-store approach; there are several approaches. Basically there are two types of players - “internal”players who provide turnkey solutions (store locator, product locator or click & collect) to retailers for their web and mobile channels; and players who are “external”to the web and mobile channels of the company and whose approach is to try to increase in-store traffic by targeting customers. There are also geolocated social networks which don’t usually show goods on sale in stores but provide consumer opinion. There are also players who specialise in couponing, focusing only on the promotional products which are offered in-store, but without mentioning stock availability. Finally, there are the pre-shopping help-sites, which help users find out which stores carry the product they’re looking for - the closest, the cheapest, the one with the best service, and so on. The most complicated aspect remains the interaction with the companies’ own information systems, and their value added depends largely on how much they know about each store’s product availability.
L'Atelier: Has Web-to-store really been adopted, then?
Jérémie Herscovic: Well it’s far from being a tidal wave of adoption. The fact that only 33% of retailers tell visitors to their websites whether a given product can only be bought online and that only a handful post product availability proves the point. Lack of store-specific information could discourage a customer from going out to make the purchase. However, there is genuine increasing adoption of what is termed a "cross-channel" approach. Some retailers have seen their traffic rise by 5 - 8% when they posted specific store information on their sites.