Online Research, Offline Purchase

The results of [PDF] during the 2005 holiday season released last month show that 47% of respondents who researched a product online then bought that product offline. This a strong argument for bricks and mortor merchants to include a store-finding feature on their web site.

Conversely, 53% of respondents who researched a product online did not follow through by buying online. It would’ve been nice to know why.

These results obviously  suggest that merchants should think of ways they can track feet on the floor to determine ROI on their online marketing efforts. It’s a tricky problem because there are no elegant solutions to address it.

The study also found that price comparison sites such as have yet to really take off. The web sites American Internet users used for researching products they bought, online or off, were:

  • The merchant’s site, 63%
  • A search engine, 62%
  • The manufacturer’s site, 30%
  • A shopping search engine or comparison site, 26%
  • Other, 14%

This data makes clear that it is crucial that a merchant’s web site have high visibility in the general search engines through either or through natural so consumers can find the merchant site for their research needs.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Nash on March 14, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    When I think about all the times I’ve searched on Amazon to get the ISBN number of a book I wanted, then called my local Borders or B&N to reserve the book so I could pick it up the same day at my convenience, I think there are three factors (uniqueness, immediate gratification, and the tactile factor), that come into play here.

    The delay inherent in having something shipped to you is a form of delayed gratification, and this tends to dampen impulse buying. If you are already in a brick-and mortar store, see something that “feels right” at the moment, I think you’re more likely to buy it on the spot, since not doing so will require a second trip to the store if you decide later you want to buy it. Whereas, there is usually the sense that one can always come back later with less effort online.

    And I think the impetus for the impulse buy itself is weaker online, since your experience with the product is by necessity virtual. Fewer of your senses are brought into play at the point of sale.

    Not all buys are impulse buys, of course, but even the “well researched” purchases are often exercises in justifying a particular purchase in one’s own mind. So the shopper may feel the need to see the product in “real life” to help convince themselves that they are making the right choice. This contact with the product, of course, occurs most often at the brick-and-mortar point of sale, so the brick-and-mortar store gets the sale.

    Books, of course, are not usually products which require seeing the book physically to decide whether one wants to buy it. But the shipping delay still tips things in favor of the brick-and-mortar purchase.

    So the challenge for the online retailer is to create a sense of immediacy and product uniqueness whenever possible. If the shopper has the sense that the product will be hard to find offline or may not be available on the next visit, I think an online purchase is more likely. This of course can only be applied to certain sorts of items, although that sense can be created to some degree with other products through the use of short duration offers which compete on price.

    For brick-and-mortar retailers with online presences, one strategy might be to give the shopper a way to “reserve” an item online for pick up from a nearby brick-and-mortar location.