Search Online, Buy Offline Has a Long Way To Go

Filed in Local Search by Matt McGee on February 20, 2008 8 Comments

Local search industry watchers have been saying for a while now that local search is primarily a search online, buy offline model. We look online for the right product, and then go buy it at a local store. I believe that to be a mostly accurate statement, although there are obvious exceptions. (I don’t go offline to make hotel reservations, for example, yet that is very much local search.)

Search Online, Buy Offline?

Anyway … if “search online, buy offline” is the dominant function of local search, you would think that retailers would be going out of their way to make that process easier. Circuit City, I think, does a great job of this. In addition to a wide product selection, they provide two things I need to make a smart buying decision:

  1. Detailed product information
  2. Reviews from users/customers

And then they go one step further by offering “buy online, pick up at the store” (and with a 24-minute guarantee to boot). Admittedly, the Circuit City model is slightly different than what’s traditionally described as the local search model, but the point is the same: It’s an offline, local fulfillment of a search that began online.

The problem is that very few stores are doing this. They’re not offering local fulfillment of online activities.

Internet Retailer statsAccording to the January issue of Internet Retailer magazine, only 43 of the Top 500 retailers offer a buy online/pick up at the store option. That’s less than ten percent. (see image at right)

If the Top 500 retailers are slow to implement this, what chance does a small, local business have? Well, in many ways, it would be easier for a local retailer. This is one occasion where lack of scale is a Good Thing. Small retail sites don’t have the complexity required by big brand retailers. Adding an “I’ll pick it up at the store” option should be an easy addition to most small business retail Web sites. (In my previous job as a web designer/developer, such a choice would be about 10 minutes of programming at most.)

Despite the benefits, and what I think should be an easy thing to do, I’m not aware of many small businesses providing this option to local shoppers. And if very few big brands and local stores are jumping on the bandwagon, it proves that search online/buy offline has a long way to go.

Are you aware of any small/local retailers offering a “pick it up at the store” option to shoppers?

Comments (8)

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  1. rhaden says:

    The store I work for, The Education Station ( does this. We tell people in the physical store that they can do this “and avoid paying shipping and handling.” I’m not sure that it’s obvious at our website that people have that option, though. Obviously, that’s something we need to correct.

  2. Todd Mintz says:

    Uh Matt, 43 out of 500 is 8.6%, not less than 1%. I though sportscasters had to be good at basic math :.)

  3. Matt McGee says:

    @rhaden – was it an expensive thing to implement into your shopping cart system on the site? How many shoppers do the in-store pickup thing?

    @Todd – whoops. Looks like I left out a zero. Thanks. I’ll go fix that. 🙂

  4. Miriam says:

    Ah, Matt, clearing the cache worked 🙂 I’m a happy camper.

    This is a great article, but I must ask, what is a 24 minute guarantee?


  5. Matt McGee says:

    Welcome back, Miriam. 🙂 24-minute guarantee — if you buy something online at Circuit City, they promise to have it ready at the store within 24 minutes. If not, they give you $24 or something like that. I don’t recall all the details. But it’s a neat gimmick, I think.

  6. rhaden says:

    Todd, the website came that way. We use a catalog site from the same folks who do our stock catalog (that’s the norm in our industry). However, our customers can’t tell that they have that option till they check out, so it’s not much of a lure. I would say that only people whom we’ve told about it offline use the feature. It’s much more common for people to print out pages from our website and walk into the store carrying it, or to call while looking at our webpage and ask if it’s on hand at the store.
    We’ve been including the information in our email newsletter and so on, and people respond very well to it, but it would be more effective if it were obvious from their first contact with the website.

  7. Clearly the measurement of search’s impact on offline sales is a huge opportunity as well as a difficult task.

    I am not sure that circuit city every really figured it out, many retailers have a pick up in store feature on the e-commerce channel and haven’t gone bankrupt recently.

    The biggest gains in this area will be as mobile search progresses and we have online search in a brick and mortar location.

    Thanks, Matt.

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