ICP Blog

Understanding Consumer Shopping Behaviour & Digital Shelf

Jing Wang
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Jing Wang

By Jing Wang

Shopping has changed a lot since the rise of the web. Although the vast majority of purchases remain offline and in-store and will continue to do so for years, digitising "the shelf" will soon be the standard for bricks and mortar stores, as consumer shopping behaviour is evolving.


Consumers are shifting to ROPO:

While brands invest billions per year in physical shelf presence, consumers are turning to the web to research, discover and purchase products, throughout the day and across screens and devices. In fact, 84% of smartphone shoppers turn to their mobile phone to help them shop while in a store. One-third of shoppers use their smartphone to find information instead of asking store employees (I personally do this myself). Instead of using retail shelves, these constantly connected shoppers browse pages of products online – the “Digital Shelf” – looking for answers to their questions.

These consumers are known as ROPO (Research Online, Purchase Offline) or reverse-ROPO shoppers. The latter, you’ve guessed it, is someone who browses products in store before making their purchase online.

There are many reasons for ROPO shopping. The most common one is related to needing time to make an informed decision and being able to compare products more easily, then see the product first-hand before committing to a purchase. For reverse ROPO, it occurs because while many people still prefer to see, touch or sometimes taste products in store, many items are available at lower prices through online vendors. For both ROPO and reverse ROPO shoppers, content online is an essential part of their purchasing journey.


How do brands and retailers react to this:

Brands and retailers are going omnichannel to ensure they remain relevant to the trend in shopping behaviour. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are expanding their digital presence, while pure-play retailers are deepening engagement with consumers by opening physical stores.

Think of luxury brands, from Louis Vuitton to Chanel and Gucci, who have been racing to embrace digital and are partnering with multi-brand retailer sites like Farfetch, developing their own platforms or both. Look at Wayfair, the home furnishing retailer, as they follow other digital-native retailers that have entered the physical store space, including mattress-maker Casper. Amazon, after two decades of operating exclusively online, opened its first brick-and-mortar food store "Amazon Go" in Dec 2016 in Seattle and recently invested in its "4-Star" store in New York offering walk-in customers the option to browse and buy items that are rated 4 stars or above on Amazon.com.

Thinking in terms of “Bricks” vs. "Clicks" is outdated; “Brick-and-click” is the current and future retailer reality.


A strong digital presence has never been more critical:

It is not simply a case of investing your offline vs. online channel, it is about making your online product content relevant and engaging to drive sales for both physical and digital shelves.

Brands must have a strong digital presence, even if their products are not suited for traditional Ecommerce. Hard luxury brands, particularly in watches and jewellery, are still heavily reliant on department stores and own boutiques and view Ecommerce as the home of counterfeit goods and unauthorised “grey market” sellers. The iconic watchmaker Patek Philippe’s online store, where consumers can browse products via decent product images and informative product information but won’t find an “Add to Cart” button. The “only look but not purchase” experience is certainly atypical of most shopping websites, but that makes sense in specific circumstances and is an excellent example of how some high-end retailers are dealing with a dilemma born of the digital age and they know digital presence is crucial.


So where to start?

A tactical approach to start building your digital shelf is to think about the three main steps shoppers may have when browsing your product online.


A typical ROPO shopper would:

  1. Begin with searching products on retailer sites to find what they are looking for.
  2. Instead of waiting to be sold to, they are actively looking for information about the product and compare products across brands to inform their purchases.
  3. Once they have all the information, they turn to customer reviews to help them finalise purchasing decision.


To meet shopper expectation, brands need to:

  1. Be visible in the right places and have maximum search visibility on retailer websites.
  2. Inform shoppers about your product through compelling content (including titles, photos, feature bullet points, descriptions and enhanced content)
  3. Nail the basics of rating and reviews by seeking out digital influencers to provide a great deal of reach and positive impact to your brands. Apart from that, you would also need a robust product content ecosystem to effectively build and maintain your digital shelf at scale.


Stay tuned to our next blog from this Ecommerce series, where we will be talking about how to make your product appear at the top of digital shelf and engage shoppers with great content and bring them further into the buyer's journey.


Click here for part 2.


About the author:

E-Commerce [Part 1 of 5]: Understanding Consumer Shopping Behaviour & Why Brands Should Invest in Digital ShelfJing Wang, has 5-year background in DAM business operations, change management & E2E support design.

 Her current role is project consultant leading business engagement and consulting for DAM integration programmes, Ecommerce product content & digital shelf ecosystem for FMCG & CPG clients.

 Outside of work, Jing can be found in Zumba dance studio and badminton court. She also enjoys spending most of her weekend mornings on Yoga mat.