Although Australian retailers need to improve their online visibility, a 'multichannel' approach to sales can still result in substantial business being driven to their bricks-and-mortar locations, according to the Australian Centre for Retail Studies (ACRS).
Research from the ACRS suggests that six of the top eight pre-sales research conducted by consumers is done through online channels. This data is supported by Google data, which claims that shopping-based searching has risen 35-40 per cent in the past 12 months, and that mobile browsing is becoming increasingly important.
Despite this, the majority of purchases are still done in store - with customers especially preferring physical shopping for 'big ticket' items. For instance, Google research suggests that for every $1 spent on social marketing initiatives, $5.30 in in-store sales is generated.
"Traditional media is less important - the key channels to connect with customers is now email marketing and SEO," ACRS Research Fellow, Dr Sean Sands, said in a presentation. "But spend in retail is still in traditional channels."
Dr Sands pointed towards mobile and social retailing as two areas where Australian retailers especially lag in adoption. In many cases (even with major retailers), mobile applications that are tailored for a smart phone platform, rather than being Websites adapted for mobile, are just being developed now.
With the advent of new geolocation marketing tools provided through the likes of Facebook deals and Foursquare, as well as other modern mobile marketing opportunities (QR readers have never taken off in Australia, for instance), there are a host of tools available to improve brand engagement and draw consumers into physical stores.
But according to Dr Sands, Australian retailers have often failed to properly understand how to manage the new opportunity.
"Social retailing is a bit of an unknown area. Often retailers don't know why they have a presence there - often it's simply because the competition does - and the person that manages the social media strategy is often a Gen Y person, and often because they simply have a Facebook page of their own," he said. "The best have a clear strategy."
It's also important not to expect sales to come directly from social retailing. Conversion in the social space remains low at less than one per cent, but the strategic importance of having people "like" a retailer's Facebook page is an important benefit.