After The Search: The New Shopping Cart Travels Online To Offline

Are you interested in modernizing your brand experience and customer journey to attract younger generations, such as Millennials?  If you’re following the money in any fashion, chances are very good that you are. And if you’re not, you should be. 

Estimates say this group, born between “Airplane” and “Gladiator,” will spend $200 billion per year by 2017 and $10 trillion in their collective lifetimes.  While Millennials’ peak buying power may still be years away, marketers need to think about how to build strong business-to-consumer relationships with this demographic juggernaut.

How? The most accessible way, of course, is to engage with these digital natives in their natural habitat of social media. More than three-quarters of Millennials have created a profile on a social networking site, according to Pew Research. Also, research from Barkley tells us that Millennials are far more likely to favor brands that have Facebook pages and websites.



Yet for all their technological savvy, here’s an equally important and little-known fact: Millennials are the driving force behind online-to-offline consumer spending in the U.S.

Consumer expenditures can be divided into three types: online, which is researching and buying  from a website; offline, which is making a purchase over the phone or in person; and online-to-offline, which is researching online first, then calling or visiting the business to buy.

My team recently analyzed data from several hundred thousand phone calls placed from four advertising channels: search, display, directories and voice.  In every instance, the group most likely to go online-to-offline was Millennials.  In fact, mobile search was the single category that over-indexed the most for consumers under the age of 34.

According to Forrester Research, offline is still the largest share of consumer spending, representing an estimated $1.8 trillion in 2017.  Somewhat surprisingly, online-to-offline will have nearly caught up by then, representing almost $1.7 trillion.  Incidentally, pure online is estimated to reach just $327 billion by that time.

On the flipside, what irritates this group the most?  It’s a poor consumer experience offline.  When we measure consumer unhappiness -- specifically by registering how often consumers curse when calling a business -- the reasons are what you might expect: long hold times and lack of transparency regarding price and service. 

About 15 years ago, right when the last group of Millennials was being born and Russell Crowe was holding up his Oscar for “Gladiator,” companies that couldn’t figure out their e-commerce experience began to lose market share and failed.  Those that figured it out, like Amazon, have become giants. 

Today, there is a different challenge for marketers: making the offline experience match the online experience that attracted the consumer in the first place.  In order to win, search marketers need to test their offline experiences as much as they do their landing pages. 

The new shopping cart straddles both of these worlds. No longer can store experiences and call centers be separated from the e-commerce team.  As search marketers, it is our responsibility to ensure that our clients and colleagues fully understand the renewed importance of a quality offline shopping experience.

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