The ROPO (Research Online, Purchase Offline) Effect

Steve Collinge from the Insight Retail Group looks at how DIY retail is changing thanks to more digitally savvy consumers.

The consumer purchase process in Home Improvement is getting increasingly complicated.

Before the internet came along and changed everything, the world of DIY retail was a very simple place. Consumers either had a home improvement related problem, a leaking tap,
blocked sink or drafty window frame or we had been inspired to spend time improving our homes, gardens or maybe both.

The retailer touch-points were just a recent tv or newspaper advert, a flyer received through the door or word of mouth from the neighbour who (in those days) we could be bothered to actually speak to. If consumers wanted to buy a home improvement or garden related product, they had only one option and that was to go along to a retail store and buy it. In those days, we would happily pop along to the nearest DIY store, buy what we needed, loving the experience of hunting through the packets of screws and widgets, excited to buy the very latest paint colour or lawnmower. We then drove home and wasted no time at all doing the job ourselves, because we actually knew what we were doing and we were very proud of what we’d achieved.

How things have changed. Established DIY retailers have come and gone, new retailers have arrived and in a short period of time have become our preferred option. Our Dad

have given up teaching us how to wallpaper or replace a light-bulb, because we’re so rubbish at it. More and more of us are renting, so home improvement is now limited to the purchase of a brand new cushion, a clock or a house plant and millennials are so obsessed by living the ‘Insta’ dream, that the mere thought of having to do something mundane like buying Polyfilla and filling a hole, brings on a deep, dark depression. For those of us who are engaged in improving our homes and gardens, who believe a better life starts at home, who long for that emotional uplift you experience when walking into a freshly decorated room or the sense of satisfaction when you sit on your new garden furniture in the garden that you have cultivated, how do we purchase these days?

Well, of course the retailer touch points have increased dramatically.

Consumer Touch Points

It’s no longer the traditional ‘above the line’ forms of consumer communication, it’s now all about inspiration through social media channels including Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz,
direct email marketing, surveys, YouTube help videos; basically any way possible for the retailer to use relevant, great content to get inside our heads and persuade us they’re one stepahead of the rest.

What is the ROPO Effect?

So, let’s get back to the title of this article, what is the ROPO effect? Well, first of all it’s not that new. Wikipedia defines it as ‘a modern trend in buying behaviour where customers research relevant product information to qualify their buying decision, before they actually decide to buy their favourite product in the local store’.

Industry research tells us that between 40% and 50% of consumers now research DIY products online before going into a store to buy them, but this differs hugely across the
categories. The more functional, consumable or regularly purchased products, paint brushes, storage etc. are rarely researched online, as consumers know the stores will offer a broad range of these items, priced competitively. The higher ticket, one off purchases of products that consumers have limited knowledge of – power tools, security, lighting, garden furniture and BBQ’s etc. are researched far more online before a final decision is made.

When you step up again to big ticket, more complicated, project purchases such as kitchens and bathrooms, researching online takes on a whole new dimension. These
projects can take anything from three to nine months to come to fruition and a very high percentage of consumers will research styles, ranges, installation services, promotional
offers and finance deals at multiple times during the process.

The supply of online design tools and price comparison websites such as encourage consumers to spend even more time researching and selecting
their preferred look and feel. Ultimately this leads them to the retailers that they then choose to visit and buy from.

‘Researching online’ is of course a fairly broad term and can be just finding whether the local store is open on a Sunday, whether they have in stock the product needed and of course, what the latest price or promotion is.

Bricks and Mortar Retailers

It makes logical sense that once a consumer has started the purchase process online that he/she will probably end up buying online and in many retail categories, this is increasingly
the case. However, in Home Improvement, the lack of knowledge and experience, means that even after extensive online research, they are not confident enough to make the
final purchase and therefore they decide to visit a store to confirm that decision.

The consumer may also prefer the advantages of the bricks and mortar retailers, including zero shipping costs, because they want the product there and then as they have limited time to complete the task, or because exchanges and refunds can be simpler and easier.

However, as difficult as they are to identify and differentiate while researching online, consumers are just as difficult to actually recognise once in store. Is that customer visiting the store to simply research a product or to actually purchase it? With a mobile phone in every customers’ hand, it is impossible to know.

Key Principles for Retailer Success

Recognising that consumers are researching online some product categories more than others, in addition to visiting stores to confirm and complete their purchase, leads to a
number of key principles for retailer success.

The website should be mobile enabled and it should help consumers to find the product(s) they are searching for very quickly and very easily. Making the ‘Store Finder’ link obvious
on every page of the website, as well as the contact us details is also really important, so customers can get the help they need or find the store to visit.

The reality is that consumers are now researching and shopping for Home Improvement in a multitude of different ways and retailers need to be aware that the playing field has shifted. Just getting the right range, pricing strategy, promotional offer and service right in store, is now only half the battle. To have a chance of being considered by your potential customers, it is critical to be visible, accessible and competitive across every single touch point.