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There’s a good reason online retailers are investing in physical stores

Researchers from Colorado State University, Amazon, and Dartmouth College published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that examines the role of physical stores for selling “deep” products.

The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing, is titled “How Physical Stores Enhance Customer Value: The Importance of Product Inspection Depth” and is authored by Jonathan Zhang, Chunwei Chang, and Scott Neslin.

While some traditional offline retailers are struggling and are closing stores (e.g., Macy’s, Walgreens), online retailers are opening them (e.g., Amazon, Warby Parker). This conflicting trend raises the question, what is the physical store’s role in today’s multichannel environment?

The research team posits that products differ in the inspection depth – “deep” or “shallow” – customers require to purchase them. Deep products require ample inspection in order for the customer to make an informed decision. We propose that physical stores provide the physical engagement opportunity customers need to purchase deep products.

To test this thesis, the researchers conducted three studies. The first used transaction data from a national multichannel outdoor-product retailer. Two lab experiments demonstrated the same effect.

The large-scale transactional data involving 50,000 customers show that by using a “deep products in-store” promotional strategy to migrate new customers from a “low-value state” to a “high-value state,” average spending per trip increases by 40%, long-term sales increases by 20%, and profitability increases by 22%.

The lab experiments show that:

-By onboarding new customers to purchase a “deep product in-store” as their first purchase from a new retailer, their re-patronage intention for this retailer increases by 12% compared to all other product/channel combinations.

-By directing new customers to purchase a “deep product in-store” as their first purchase from a new retailer, they are more likely to: 1) buy deep products in the future online, indicating that they generalize trust across channels; and 2) buy adjacent categories online, indicating that they generalize trust across categories.

The last decade has witnessed a marked increase in the opening of physical stores by online retailers, despite myriad changes in the retailing environment. This attests that these findings are not ephemeral. Zhang says “The general lesson of our research is for retailers to create a concrete, tangible, and multi-sensory experience for customers buying products that require this physical engagement. This sets the stage for favorable experiential learning and increased customer value.” Retailers can do this in numerous ways:

First, when retailers find that a customer is buying deep products online but their spending is decreasing in value, they can provide a promotion for deep products in-store. This can increase customer value.

Second, retailers need to enhance physical engagement for deep products through merchandising and training sales personnel to walk customers through the engagement – e.g., by helping customers try and use deep products in-store.

Third, retailers cannot infer product inspection depth solely from predefined product categories because there is much variation in inspection depth within a particular category. Rather, management should infer inspection depth using the proposed measures, or expert, independent judges.

Fourth, retailers should use a deep/offline onboarding strategy for new customers. That is, they should use acquisition channels that encourage the first purchase to be deep/offline.

Zhang adds that “We also discuss related issues such as using stores versus showrooms; fielding full or limited staff; selling private label goods; designing loyalty and buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) programs; and leveraging technology to create physical engagement in online settings.”

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Full article and author contact information available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/00222429211012106

About the Journal of Marketing


The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.
https://www.ama.org/jm

About the American Marketing Association (AMA)


As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what is coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.
https://www.ama.org

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