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How an Offline Cookie Delivers Guests to Restaurants


There is often a missing link between where people spend time -- online -- and where they spend money -- in physical locations, like restaurants and stores. Bridging the gap between online marketing and offline sales is one of the primary goals of businesses in the digital era. The challenge is simple to understand. A big chunk of our time, and over $40 billion of the world’s annual ad dollars, is spent online, yet over 90% of purchasing still happens offline .

Offline shopping is still going strong

The time we spend online influences our behavior in the real world. Consider this stat: online sales are only 7% of the economy, but 47% of offline sales were influenced by the web in some way.Nearly half of an American adult’s day is spent browsing websites, checking email and looking at social media. Since ad spending tends to flow to where people are spending their time, it makes sense that it’s moving to digital media. By 2021 spending on digital marketing will hit $120 billion, or 46% of all ad revenue. However, at that time, e-commerce sales will still only be about 17% of the economy.

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Digital cookies are key to online tracking and measuring results.

Here’s the real rub: Even though traditional businesses are spending billions on digital advertising, they have no direct way to measure results. E-commerce businesses can measure the impact of online advertising from impression to transaction. But that’s not so easy for offline counterparts.

Digital cookies are the key to online tracking. They remember visitor information and keep track of preferences. They measure visits to web pages and recognize when someone returns. Without them, websites would be about as effective, and trackable, as billboards.

Developing an offline cookie would enable direct offline attribution. Put simply, offline attribution is the ability to tie online marketing to offline actions such as in-store visits and sales. This is often described as the holy grail for brick-and-mortar marketers because historically they have had no way to directly measure the business results of their efforts.

Businesses have used coupons and loyalty programs, but these have notoriously low participation rates and can be time consuming to manage. What marketers need to be as successful as online businesses is a way to automatically track the journey a customer takes from seeing an ad to checking out at the register.

Leveraging WiFi for offline attribution  

Free WiFi access points in business locations could form a network for measuring store visits. By inviting customers to use free WiFi, merchants can opt customers into marketing programs. Once registered, customer visits can be automatically logged by the retailer’s access point.

Using WiFi signal like an offline cookie can function as a trigger for communication, just like a website visit is used in the online world. This functionality enables technology that allows restaurants to track customer visits, effortlessly build customer profiles and keep them up to date. It can also help to automate marketing practices like automatically sending specific email offers triggered by customer visits or characteristics. So for example, a welcome email to first time visitors, or a special incentive to get someone who hasn’t visited in a while to return. One key capability is the ability for restaurants to measure an offline equivalent of click-throughs to measure exactly how many customers returned to the store after seeing a marketing message.

In many ways, it’s similar to what made internet and web marketing so effective. Many restaurant owners are throwing money away on marketing programs that just aren’t delivering ROI. The offline cookie empowers restaurants to be rational about where advertising dollars are allocated because they will know if a customer clicked on an ad and ended up in the store.


About the Author

Kai Umezawa is vice president of product at Zenreach.  Zenreach’s network now includes tens of millions of users, and drove more than 7.7 million Walk-Throughs in 2018, based on data from Zenreach customers. This network will be the key to helping offline merchants get more from digital ad spend as well.


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