Is online driving offline store sales? Big time, says Google

By Shweta Mulki , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | May 14, 2018
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The Online-to-Offline team at Google is pleased that Indian advertisers are eager to experiment in O2O...

While the Walmart-Flipkart may well change how offline and online retail work, Google wants brands to train focus on their Online-to-Offline strategy. If you retail in brick-n-mortar stores and want to know how you're online efforts are paying off, O2O is key. Igor Liskovets, Google's director for Online-to-Offline and Calls Solutions, was here in India recently to talk to brands about Google's Store Visits measurement tool.

Live in 20 markets globally, Store Visits which was introduced in India 6 months ago, aids advertisers in setting up an omnichannel KPI- that i, see how each channel- online or physical is contributing to total sales, and then optimise campaigns accordingly.

"Advertisers do now see that more and more retail sales are due to online influence", says Liskovets. In India, Google is looking at loyalty programme members, and cross vertical data to approximate how many customers come in through online. It also looks at customers' registration information in a to understand customer behaviour.

So how does Store Visits work?

Liskovets says they help advertisers understand- for their existing campaigns, what percentage of people who clicked on/saw their ad, ended up in their stores, within a given period. " It could be 30 days for a car, 7 days for a toothbrush, but the idea that this can now be measured enables advertisers to ask more questions. For example, one customer would've come in from a discount campaign, while another via a new product campaign. You can also figure campaign-related weekend/ weekday sales, as well as separate first time visitors to the site versus existing customers", he adds.

Igor Liskovets Igor Liskovets

In India, Google is currently identifying macro-patterns i.e. 'where a set of people-not individuals, go'. "We are looking at multi brand, single brand chains, auto brands, as well as restaurant chains. We need relatively big stores with enough visits for aggregating in a way that gives us insights, yet protects consumer privacy", reveals Liskovets.

If a customer who's shown interest online is near a store, can the store be alerted? "No, that's not where this is tool is going -there's technology and experimentation in this space, but Google may not go there due to privacy," Liskovets comments. However, he says that retailers will want to address that eventually. "Say, I'm a loyal customer of a clothing brand, walking in to buy a suit, they'll know that only after I make the purchase - that's not so useful. But currently, our focus is only on measurement and insights- some sets of consumers have agreed to give us their location history for the value they get, but they may not want to be identified or re-marketed to when they enter a store.

Speaking on the 'whole view' of the consumer journey that Google has, he says "A consumer will do all kinds of research - search, Youtube, display ad or articles and there are multiple touch points. Beyond online sales, we are now able to point what percentage of consumers reached by a campaign, ended up in stores. When a brand generates 95% from stores and only 5% from ecomm, what influenced the 95%? Do I need a completely different creative/targeting/strategy'. They're trying to maximise total sales after all, not just online."

Catching the micro-moment

Liskovets also mentions a tool called bid-by-distance - where you can bid more for users around your locations. "When someone does a search, and is two kms. from your store, we can measure how many ended up there. Brands want to 'win that moment'. A sports wear brand can target a consumer when she/he's just picking up a sports activity- if I'm near a store and did a search, the brand's ad tells them about a related kit", he illustrates.

India Insight: 'It's impressive how eager advertisers are to experiment here"

Liskovets says that from traditional Indian brands who only have physical stores to pure online players who are now opening stores, there's a will to experiment. Some've had lightbulb moments understanding 'why', versus earlier when they only knew they 'had to' invest in digital, he adds."The number of people getting online is increasing so fast- it's not static behaviour unlike saturated western markets. Brands here looking to effectively catch up to rapid growth, whereas the West is more about changing patterns in consumer behaviour," he observes.

Rahul Gautam Rahul Gautam

Google currently has about 30 clients using this service- Nissan, Datsun, Ford, Shoppers Stop and Tata Croma to name a few.

Rahul Gautam, VP-Marketing at Ford says a study they conducted with Google showed that 80% of customers entering stores had come via online. That's hard evidence for a segment which is otherwise big on traditional advertising. He says that customers now narrow down to their last two choices online, versus earlier, when weekends were set aside for multiple test drives.

India-specific consumer behaviour: 'Youtube trumps Search'

Advertisers need us to link all parts- beyond search and last click attribution, because here the consumer has so many different interactions with YouTube and rest of Google before entering the store," Liskovets explains. He reveals that other markets consumers start with search thereby creating specific audiences for campaigns, but India is not really 'search-first' - it comes after Youtube, articles etc and brands can use this pattern for the right influence.

'Privacy is especially paramount in O2O'

As privacy agreements with technology providers are being examined afresh, Google claims they are about consumer choice. "We have 100s of millions consenting to location history..why? Because of value and functionality plus you easily can opt out. Privacy is paramount in Online-to-Offline as we are dealing with the real world. Advertisers do ask about that consumer who goes to a store first, and then sees a related ad- we don't focus on that as it may not be the right trade off. It's constantly about the fine balance," he says, sharing that they've enabled use cases so consumers have control. "That's one reason we have 'Why this ad' on ads. A classic example is when someone planning to get married is looking for a ring, they may not want that ad popping up on a shared device with their fiancée", he explains.

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