“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today's column is written by Greg Mason, CEO at Purch.
The trend known as webrooming, or shopping online before buying in-store, is having a real impact on the retail sector.
About 78% of us webroom, according to Accenture. And one result is that retail foot traffic is down, but in-store sales are up. During the last winter holiday, for example, in-store traffic fell 15% from 2012, yet in-store sales rose 3%. Why? Shoppers visited fewer stores per trip, but when they did visit, they intended to buy. Webrooming has simply streamlined a complicated customer purchase funnel, making it possible to achieve confidence more quickly.
But this isn’t just impacting the retail landscape. It’s also affecting digital content.
Remember, not all webrooming takes place on a retailer’s website. In reality, most of it occurs offsite, still online, but across a number of independent, third-party expert sites and properties.
Here’s how publishers seem to be taking advantage of the shift.
For many digital publishers, product reviews have always been an important part of the editorial toolkit. However, as webrooming’s popularity climbs, product reviews have grown into an essential resource for mainstream consumers. This means greater traffic afforded through product- and review-driven coverage.
In part, this is why we’re seeing an uptick in publishers adding more product-oriented writers to their editorial teams, enabling them to increase review output and efficiency. In December, for example, The Wall Street Journal announced a dedicated personal technology team, focused on “a multiplatform approach to reviews.” And Digital Trends hired Jeremy Kaplan, a former gadget expert at FoxNews.com. In an editor’s note from Kaplan outlining his goal at Digital Trends, he emphasized the following: “Sure, Samsung and GE want people to Tweet with their white-box goods, but should you buy them? Let us review them for you, taking the guesswork out of the equation.”
These examples represent a real evolution in the digital media landscape, as more publishers focus on the webrooming trend to drive scale and traffic long-term – even over breaking news.
Native ads do what advertisers and marketers have wanted for years: They deliver more real estate on a page and cut through the noise to help engage the audience. However, though native spending is set to triple by 2015 – an indication of just how great an opportunity it is – insufficient reporting and ROI metrics can jeopardize the potential. Among high-level marketer and advertising decision-makers, nearly half cite measuring native performance as the biggest obstacle to adoption. If you take a look at some of the more top-funnel native campaigns, the concerns seem valid. But webrooming has the ability to change that and translate native into performance, safeguarding its monetization for publishers.
As demand for product reviews has increased, they’ve become the best form of content to support with native dollars. After all, reviews are generally read by potential buyers already interested in the featured item. By promoting a review natively, after it’s published, brands can extend and amplify the influence of the review to drive sales.
This isn’t necessarily new. Positive third-party reviews have always been used by brands to drive further interest in whatever they’re offering. But services like Outbrain help brands do this more effectively online through native, while allowing publishers to reap the benefits.
Similar to native, webrooming has made display and banners ads work better and more efficiently for brands. This is important as display spending, at $51.8 billion, is still among the most sizable in the industry, according to ZenithOptiMedia.
Now, instead of simply inserting branding into a billboard unit on a publisher’s homepage, for instance, a banner campaign can run next to or on a positive product review page that’s related to the advertiser. This can be done in conjunction with the native promotion of a page or post, complementing and driving its visibility further.
Brands are also more apt to engage in digital conquesting – taking out display ads right next to content about their rivals – as webrooming grows. The numbers are beginning to bear this out. Geoconquesting – location-based targeting by advertising around the physical premises of competitors – grew 27% in 2013, compared to 2012, according to xAd.
The point for publishers is that if display’s value increases by pairing it with product reviews – making it “smarter” and optimizing them – the dollars spent on display will grow in tandem.
Webrooming is really brand marketing with a soft performance component baked in, meaning that while you can’t track the sale resulting from a review, you can track review engagement. But if publishers have the ability to drive in-store sales through their content, like reviews, what’s to say that they can’t leverage it to take a potential buyer even further through the sales funnel and drive a transaction onsite? A number of publishers have pulled it off, including Thrillist, Gilt Groupe and Harper’s Bazaar. It’s a trend that’s only growing as publishers seek out new ways to monetize.
Ultimately, publishers looking to wade into the space can do ecommerce in two ways: the old-fashioned simple way through affiliate links, or by owning the whole process, from soup to nuts. If publishers opt for the latter it can be expensive. They need to make sure that the audience is not only there, but ready to purchase (testing this through an affiliate link program is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to evaluate).
By shifting consumer behavior, webrooming stands to drive a new era of monetization and efficiency for publishers, affording them fresh ways to build revenue and make longstanding strategies like reviews and display more efficient and effective.