In digital publishing, commerce is usually seen as e-commerce—i.e., buying on-site. And with the global e-commerce market set to hit a record-breaking $1.5 trillion this year, the definition isn’t much of a surprise. Everyone wants a piece of that pie.
But e-commerce can be a difficult nut to crack, even for top publishers. Click-to-buy integrations aren’t successful overnight. They need category expertise, technology and more to support them. Operationally, e-commerce is capital intensive, with high barriers to entry.
But commerce is more than click-to-buy, and the opportunities extend beyond a website.
Webrooming, or researching products online before buying in-store, isn’t new. Yet, thanks to mobile and the rise of connected devices, it’s growing like never before.
Sixty-nine percent with a smartphone between the ages of 18-36 have webroomed. Eighty-eight percent, in general, say they’ve at least tried it. As a result, webrooming is set to account for nearly $1.8 trillion in retail sales by 2017. The opportunity is huge.
And while brands are taking advantage by delivering new content to help consumers webroom online, third-party expert sites are really the main driver behind webrooming’s adoption. This is because shoppers are more inclined to trust the buying recommendations of neutral publishers as opposed to the admittedly biased brands themselves. And, thanks to easy-to-use publishing platforms, expert sites are booming, making it simple for consumers to find relevant information from a credible source.
How Webrooming is Changing Commerce
Webrooming is bridging the longstanding gap between online and offline buying, without the click-to-buy integrations. It’s making online content a commerce driver for in-store transactions. Digital content is essentially marketing collateral to compel a sale.
What’s changed today is that the consumer is now "always on." They’re connected to the Web via tablet, smartphone, smartwatch—you name it. This makes webrooming more convenient and appealing, broadening its usability. (It should be noted that formatting content for these different devices is something else publishers will have to get really good at—sometimes that may mean adding or subtracting content depending on the user’s screen).
And this is how publishers need to see commerce moving forward. Their content is a commerce enabler that’s encouraging audiences to buy. By understanding content’s value in a webrooming culture, publishers can dream up new ways to more creatively and effectively monetize their strongest asset.
At our company, for example, we’ve invested significantly in our product reviews content over the last year, most recently adding Paul Reynolds, the first-ever Electronics Editor of Consumer Reports. Paul is broadening our reviews coverage and making it even easier for shoppers to webroom through our properties. But we’re not the only ones. Everyone from Digital Trends to The Wall Street Journal are investing in product reviews because the opportunity is clear.
Of course, webrooming isn’t perfect. Questions remain regarding performance. Publishers can’t entirely quantify how many times a piece of content drove a sale.
However, though tracking the impact from online content consumption to offline sales can be nearly impossible because of attribution challenges, marketers are increasingly working with publishers to establish a performance proxy—a measurement of online activity that correlates closely to offline sales. Figuring out what those proxies are for product categories that audience shows the most interest in will enable the publisher to drive to that more measurable behavior.