The latest report on holiday shopping in NYC in 2009 showed that 88% of people visiting a store also visited that store's Web site. 75% said going on line helped them shop at the store while 26% said that they'd visit the site to continue shopping after leaving the store!
From a customer perspective, it seems pretty clear that they view the offline store and the online store as pretty much the same thing. The former you have to travel to, meet people and feel the actual goods, the latter you can do from anywhere at anytime on your own. Other than that the difference is fairly minimal.
The scary part is that these two completely different company units usually run these two areas. The challenge for brands is to connect the two of these and to offer similar services at each. On the Web side, we've seen an increase in ways to connect with real people, via chat or click to call. On the retail side, the connections are harder to find (and no, I'm not going to talk about Nordstrom again).
One great way to connect the offline to online is to make sure those front line sales staff feed back the questions they get to the Web team and customer service. That way the site can anticipate those questions.
On the flip side, make sure your site deals with all of those post-purchase questions like returns (even if you didn't buy online) or figures out a way for the sales staff to provide continued value to shoppers through the site or email.
It's pretty clear from Envirosell's report that brands can ignore connecting the online and offline shopping experience at their own peril, since 44% of in store shoppers end up visiting a competitor's Web site.
Connect everything. It's worth breaking through the resistance.