Bridging the Online to Offline Retail Gap

Customers are demanding. To paraphrase the popular Queen anthem, retail shoppers’ mantra has become “I want it all and I want it now!” And they often don’t care how they get it. They find products they want on your web store and either purchase it there, pick it up from your storefront, or combine the two – purchasing it online and picking it up from your store. Keeping those customers satisfied and your inventory under control takes some business skill that includes bridging the online to offline (o2o) retail gap. That means having a retail platform that handles clicks and bricks is essential.  

Connecting the clicks on your website with the inventory in your brick-and-mortar store or warehouse is more important than ever. A recently released report by BRP, Real-Time Retail, shows just how much customers want.  Unfortunately, retail businesses aren’t living up to those expectations.


are likely to shop at a business that offers a shared cart across all its channels


want a personalized and consistent shopping experience


will shop at a store if its inventory is available across all channels


offer shared carts across their channels


know that personalization is a top priority


of businesses say they have real-time inventory visibility across all channels, but 41% of those store owners say their system needs improvement

“Stores need to embrace new ideas and all technology offers. Merchants need to create a strong digital image for their stores including customer loyalty programs, geofencing marketing efforts, automated customer satisfaction surveys, mobile-friendly e-commerce customer portals, digital advertising, and strong, secure in-store Wi-Fi,” says Dan Nesmith, president of Paladin Data Corporation, which develops and provides digital business platforms. “Consumers expect more from merchants today. Due in part to the evolution of retail, which now offers more personalized choices from e-commerce companies, shoppers want similar features from their neighborhood stores.”  

How can your business bridge the online to offline gap and satisfy shoppers who want it all?  

Connect the Dots  

Back when e-commerce was young, omnichannel wasn’t yet a concept, and o2o was more likely to be on the periodic table of elements than a business plan, retailers often treated their websites and stores separately in terms of recording sales and keeping inventory. That is no longer the case. Thanks to the proliferation of e-tailers and the emergence of Amazon, brick-and-mortar retailers today must integrate their online and offline presences to remain relevant in the marketplace.  

Now, as online stores such as Casper, Warby Parker, and even Amazon work to establish brick-and-mortar stores, legacy retail businesses are focusing on marrying their virtual and physical stores across all channels to maintain a consistent brand and retain customer loyalty. The 2018 BRP Digital Commerce Survey says 57% of retail businesses are focused on melding their in-store and online shopping experiences into a single, consistent brand. However, connecting online and offline data is not yet optimum.  

A study by Periscope Data, a San Francisco-based data mining company, found that 78% of U.S. retailers don’t have a unified shopping experience. The businesses involved say that a lack of cross-channel analytics (67%) is the culprit, while 45% blame poor data quality and another 45% claim they don’t have the ability to identify or recognize shoppers across channels. 

Channel Surfing  

Consumers today take a variety of paths to get to the checkout stand. Approximately 82% admit they begin their product searches online from either their computer or smartphone before buying, often completing the purchase in a local store. Another 56% say they purchased online after viewing their items in a retail business.  

Come on, admit it. In this era when everyone walks around with a computer in their purse or pocket that can call up research on the latest products, isn’t everyone guilty of phoning for advice when it comes to a big purchase?  

“Retailers are evolving with customers’ shopping behaviors by creating a seamless shopping experience online and in store,” says NRF vice president of research development and industry analysis Mark Matthews. “From pop-up stores to social marketing, retailers are finding innovative ways to engage and acquire new customers.”  

That means having a unified marketing and sales effort is priceless, and there are many ways to do it. Small businesses can hire in-house staff in both marketing and information technology to unify their messages across their many channels. Or they can enlist outside help.  

Volusion is an example of a company that provides e-commerce solutions for all types of businesses. It helps business owners who might not have the technical savvy to build their own online store. Providers like Volusion can work with a business’s retail platform to create a seamless online and in-store shopping experience for a store or brand. They also interface with the platform to channel the online sales transactions to a business’s database to provide real-time inventory control.   

Channeling Data  

The BRP report shows most retailers are moving in that direction. Within the past year, 94% of businesses indicated they have taken steps to provide a cohesive, multi-channel retail platform.  As they do this, the need for a single point of convergence is crucial.  

That means making sure your physical store, website and mobile access feature the same message, look and shopping experience is critical to success. Those sites and stores must also funnel real-time sales and inventory data into the same retail platform.  

With approximately 80% of all retail sales still occurring in a brick-and-mortar store, most of which house the bulk of inventory, utilizing a store’s retail platform as the foundation makes the most sense.  

“The key to success in retail is putting your data to work,” says Jeff Rogers, marketing, sales and partnerships director with Paladin Data Corp. “Putting data to work. What does that mean? It’s important that independent businesses shift their thinking about data. We see this across the board. Whether it’s a store that doesn’t currently use a technology system, or it’s a highly profitable multi-store chain, putting your data to work should become the primary goal.”  

 It’s not hard to see the advantages of putting data to work through a single platform.  


Web stores are open 24/7 and can net sales long after the business doors are closed.


Online searches for retail products “near me” increased 900% from 2015 to 2017.


A unified online to offline store gives a business real-time control of its inventory data.

In-store pickup of online purchases often means additional sales. The report The Rise of the Click and Collect Superconsumer shows that 85% of shoppers who buy online and pick up their items in a store make additional purchases during pick up and spend an average of $40 more on those items.  

Tracking Online and Offline Shoppers  

Tracking online customers has been pretty easy for years but knowing what in-store shoppers are doing and reaching out to them is relatively new for most businesses.  In the past, the only way retailers could track what their customers were doing came from historical sales transactions and loyalty programs. That has all changed.  

Shopper-First Retailing, a report from Salesforce, says 71% of shoppers say they’re now using their smartphones to bridge the online to offline gap to research products while they’re in brick-and-mortar retail stores.  

Many companies have also given sales associates tools to help them help customers. Mobile apps like Ez-Ad allow store associates to compare their prices to those of competitors found online. It also can provide product demonstration videos available in the store’s digital library through its retail platform or online sources.  

Other companies, such as Lowe’s, are providing customer-facing products on their mobile apps that allow shoppers to find products through location codes, research products and prices, and more. Customers simply scan a product barcode with their camera and select the feature they want.  

Other companies are helping in-store customers skip checkout lines by allowing store associate-checkout or self-checkout through mobile apps. 

All these mobile touchpoints give businesses more data to know what their customers are looking for and what they’re buying.

Indoor Fencing 

Geofencing has been a staple of Google maps for years, alerting motorists when they get near points of interest or commerce. That technology is now coming indoors and alerting shoppers when they’re near selected products or bargains.  

While nearly three-quarters of shoppers admit to using their mobile phones while shopping in stores, the Digital Commerce study shows only about one-third of businesses have put the technology to use. Only 4% are saying it is working well, but 43% expected to give it a try within the next three years.  

The popular buzzword for reaching out to online and offline shoppers is “suggestive selling.” It can feature product demonstrations or special offers. Only about one-quarter of businesses offer it and less than 10% say it works well.   

All these mobile features are available to independent businesses from comprehensive retail platforms. No matter how much technology a retail business uses, making sure customers are happy and getting what they want over all its various channels is critical.  

Brian Bullock