February 15, 2012, 11:25 AM

More merchants are focused on online marketing than in-store marketing efforts

The finding marks the first time the online channel has outpaced physical stores.

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For the first time, more marketers are leveraging their web sites and apps to sell merchandise and services than are using their bricks-and-mortar stores, according to a Retail Horizons study co-authored by the National Retail Federation Foundation and accounting and consulting firm KPMG LLC.

The percentage of retail marketers who cited physical stores as one of their top marketing channels fell 11% year over year—from 91% to 81%—while the percentage that cited their web site grew nearly 5%—from 82% to 86%.

The report is based on the survey responses of 247 retail executives from various retail niches, such as department stores, grocery chains and online-only merchants.

Marketers are increasingly focused on the online channel because web sites are increasingly malleable to whatever the retailer is looking to achieve, says a NRF spokeswoman. “Retailers are using web sites as more than just a selling tool, but as a way to engage customers in more ways than one,” she says. “Not only are they promoting online sales and events, but they’re also using it to highlight in-store sales and events. They’re using their sites to host specific contests that link to their social media presences. They’re using their store locator to draw shoppers into their stores.”

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t focused on finding new ways to spur online sales—they are, she says. For instance, 85% of the respondents said they are focused on finding ways to increase online sales, up from 83% a year earlier. Moreover, 38% said they are increasingly focused on increasing mobile commerce sales this year, up from 29% in 2011.

Among the ways they aim to boost sales is via personalization. 53% of those surveyed said they will specifically focus on their site’s personalization technology in the coming months, which includes such enhancements as location-based services.

“Harnessing the vast amounts of customer data they have at their disposal to create unique consumer interactions will be critical, especially as digital sales grow,” says Mark Larson, KPMG’s global head of retail. “Clearly the retailers who master the one-to-one customer approach, and who also leverage the full potential of e- and mobile commerce platforms, will be in a much stronger position to gain wallet share.” 

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