Bridging the Path to Purchase: How to Drive Offline Sales With Digital Advertising

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It’s a well-established truth that digital platforms play a fundamental part in influencing shopper behavior. Before purchasing a product or visiting a brand’s website, customers turn to Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration, Facebook for peer recommendations, and Amazon to research and compare their options. The increased use of smartphones and other portable devices means that consumers have access to an almost infinite stream of information about companies and their products. This has opened up a stream of opportunities for brands to connect with potential customers on the fly, but it also means that the competition for shoppers’ loyalty and attention is greater than ever.

Understanding Digital’s Impact on Offline Behavior

Many customers (76% according to recent studies) eventually end up buying an item they first discovered on social media. New and quickly evolving ad formats on digital platform help advertisers turn browsers into converters by providing a seamless check-out experience, either by redirecting to a fast-loading website or by letting users make purchases without ever leaving their chosen app. 

But what if your main objective isn’t to boost online sales or website visits? What if your company’s focus is on driving increased footfall to one or several of your brick-and-mortar locations? Can digital advertising have real impact on offline sales; and if so, how do we measure the ads’ true effectiveness? 

Online shopping continues to gain momentum, but certain items are better experienced in person; and many customers still enjoy visiting brick-and-mortar stores. 20% of users who discover a product on social media will even end up purchasing the item offline. But nevertheless, the vast majority of shoppers prefer retailers that offer some kind of online experience. And according to research, digital channels impact an estimated 56 cents of every dollar spent offline.  

Using Paid Social for Offline Objectives

Digital platforms realize that they have to offer advertisers formats and tools to help bridge the online and offline parts of the customer journey. Facebook’s Store Traffic objective helps retail advertisers drive shop visits, sales, or other offline actions by serving users ads that are dynamically populated with content about their closest store. Brands can target users within a certain radius of their brick-and-mortar locations and entice them to make a visit by serving them things like coupons or other promotional messages. They can then measure the impact of their ads based on real-time data from users who have enabled their location services. 

For example, we recently worked with a shopping center company to help drive footfall to a couple of their locations in the UK. Our teams ran a series of localized link ads across Facebook and then used the Store Traffic objective to make sure users were served content that described relevant events happening at their closest stores. As a result, we managed to boost footfall for the advertiser at a cost per store visit that was 96% below benchmark. 

A Full-Funnel Approach to Driving Offline Sales

While the ultimate goal for most retailers is to increase sales, successful campaigns are those that take into account the entire customer journey – from the early stages of awareness (“that sweater looks great”) through to consideration (“I think I want to buy that sweater”) and finally conversion (“I am going to the store to buy that sweater”). Brand-focused, eye-catching video can have an attention-grabbing effect that increases awareness of a store and its offerings. 

By layering on localized elements to the content, such as serving an ad with dresses to users in an area with sunny weather, brands can increase the relevance of their campaigns and ultimately boost results. Research shows that the vast majority (91%) of consumers are more inclined to purchase products from companies that provide relevant offers and recommendations. Users who get interested in a brand’s offering early on in their journeys are more likely to visit its shops when served something like a Store Traffic ad later on.

The gap between online and offline marketing is shrinking. We know that digital ads influence what people do and purchase once they put down their phones and laptops. The onus is on brands to deliver relevant content that turns users into shoppers. And similarly, digital platforms have to keep evolving their tools for measuring the real impact of ads on offline sales.