Online continues to replace in-store browsing

Discussion
Oct 20, 2014
Tom Ryan

Whether through a laptop at work or a smartphone before bed or in-store, online searches continue to replace much of the shopper discovery process that comes from in-store browsing.

That’s one of the conclusions of Google’s annual Holiday Shopper Intentions research conducted with Ipsos MediaCT that explored how today’s digital consumers — "the most connected ever" — are shopping earlier in the holiday season, using online video to help with research and turning to smartphones as personal shopping assistants.

Among the key findings:

Late-night shopping: One-third of all shopping searches on Google happen between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. On its blog, Google wrote, "Shopping doesn’t stop once the mall closes. Today’s shopper spends more time than ever researching purchases online at all hours of the day; we’ve gone from midnight snacking to midnight shopping."

Black Friday becoming month-long event: More than half of consumers start their research before Thanksgiving, with 26 percent having started before Halloween. At least 12 sources of information on average were used before purchasing last year, up from five in 2010. Google wrote, "This means that October through November has become a crucial period for retailers to reach shoppers online, being present with offers, information, how-tos and content."

Online shopping is the new window shopping: Beyond research, shoppers are going online for "for inspiration at all points of their day," including seeing what their friends and favorite influencers are wearing. Google wrote, "Sites like YouTube and Pinterest have become the new window displays, and a new generation of fashion influencers like Bethany Mota are influencing shopping decisions." YouTube, owned by Google, was cited for the growing popularity of its "unboxing videos," product reviews and haul videos.

The mobile shopping assistant: Three-quarters of smartphone shoppers plan to use their phones in-store this holiday season and one in three use their smartphones to find information instead of asking store employees. To brick & mortar’s benefit, 46 percent of shoppers who use their phone in a store still end up making a purchase, an 11 point increase from 2011. Google wrote, "Consumers are coming into stores more purposeful and informed than before, and savvy retailers are turning this into an opportunity."

What can retailers do to best capitalize on the popularity of online research before purchases? Do you think the time of day affects how consumers browse online and should retailers respond accordingly?

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21 Comments on "Online continues to replace in-store browsing"


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Keith Anderson
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

This trend has major implications to both retailers’ and brands’ discoverability (serendipitous encounters with new products/brands), findability (more focused searching) and conversion—both online and in-store.

Retailer search optimization, product content (images, descriptions, romance copy, rich media) and ratings/reviews are three areas that deserve attention and investment.

Understanding your position at a point in time can be helpful when getting started, but our view is that more sophisticated retailers and brands will continuously monitor and act on these performance drivers.

Jason Goldberg
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

I like to think about this fundamental shift in the path to purchase, in terms of the metaphorical front of the retail store moving to these new digital touch points.

As a result, retailers need to think about their digital touch points in terms of their role in the pre-shopping experience, and not just as an alternative sales channel. Retailers need KPIs around audience engagement, product discovery and conversion actions like store locator use, wishlist, product comparison features, etc.

Retailers also need to do a much better job of supporting the same depth of pre-shopping capabilities in their stores. Ratings and reviews have emerged as one of the most influential factors in driving purchase decisions, but how many retailers offer a low-friction way to get ratings and reviews in a physical store?

Tom Redd
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Online browsing is due to good retail marketing. Browsing leads to more store visits—people still want to see many items before they buy. There is a grouping of items, hard goods and food, that are not in the mode of “I need to see this first.”

For retailers, keep up the great marketing and strengthen your web support platforms (many retailers are doing this right now).

Note: Later shopping or browsing is usually due to a desire to avoid parents or spouses from knowing where you are looking at spending money. Especially for men—this is our time to look for items that enhance a man cave, etc.

Doug Garnett
Guest
Doug Garnett
4 years 9 months ago

Personally, I’m taking care with this “research.” It’s from Google, who is thoroughly dedicated to driving things online. Doesn’t mean they would have intentionally skewed results. Rather they arrive at conclusions through internet-colored glasses.

My assumption is that there continues to be evolution, but Google has dramatized results to make small changes sound monolithic.

So anyone interpreting these results for application in their business should take real care.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

The key findings from the Google study supports the fundamental premise: That the omni-channel consumer is shopping anytime and everywhere.

Online shopping has truly become yesterday’s windows shopping. Successful retailers and consumer brands are understanding that they now must engage consumers early in their journey. And consumer research is not just about the retailer’s web site. Increasingly consumers are searching on sites like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube where they can get rich content before going to the store.

For most categories, 80 percent of consumers research online and about 80 percent purchase in-store. But which store gets the traffic predisposed to purchase depends upon providing the best seamless experience for consumers across multiple touch points.

Online search does not stop in the store aisle. One of the most critical tasks for retailers is to engage consumers in the aisle and on their smartphones while they are shopping in-store.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

The path to purchase is now triple-stranded DNA. It is a decision journey for where someone will make a purchase, what they will buy and last, but certainly not least, which sites and tools they will repeatedly seek information from online. Retailers can play in the latter two buckets. What is new is to keep in mind that there is A LOT of pre-shopping research and browsing without purpose so you want to have a site that becomes an information destination.

Research I did (AOL was the client) called “Buying at Speed” (it’s on their advertising blog) proved that 25 percent of people on average browse a given category daily or weekly, that means without immediate shopping purpose. That is a lot of online window shopping. The other interesting finding is that those engaging in this behavior are TWO-TO-THREE TIMES more likely to know what brand they will buy before they shop. In other words, we browse online as a form of entertainment but accumulate brand knowledge as we do so.

Bill Davis
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

While I am not going to dispute the findings, I would also note the source, Google, for this report on search so worth considering.

In the spirit of omni-channel, being able to connect an online browsing/shopping experience with a followup in-store visit. Not suggesting this is easily managed, but using a consumer’s loyalty program to identify them when browsing online and then again when they are in-store, possibly via their smartphone, is one possibility. Being able to connect the online and offline experience is becoming more necessary to get a more holistic customer view.

Absolutely agree with Keith and Jason regarding rich product information across all sales channels. Online is getting more use for product research due to having more detailed product information, and other sales channels need to adapt and support this as well.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
4 years 9 months ago
Most marketing directors believe that marketing has changed more in the past two years than it has in the past 50, per a survey by CGT! In a webinar I gave on big data the statistics I researched on some of the popular social media sites showed Facebook having 1.2 billion members, Google+ having 300 million members, Groupon having 43 million users, Instagram having 200 million users and Pinterest having 70 million users. These numbers have only grown since then. Anyone who doesn’t embrace the fact that social media is highly influential is way out of touch. Not only should retailers and CPG manufacturers be advertising on these sites, they need to be ACTIVE on these sites. I’m still amazed at the number of retailers and CPG companies who don’t have Facebook pages that allow comments. You should WANT your consumers’ feedback (good or bad) so that you can address concerns and neutralize negative sentiment. Good or bad, you should be aware of your potential buyers’ experiences. Monitoring the sites, managing your reputation, advertising where… Read more »
Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
4 years 9 months ago
On one hand you can say the proliferation of online research makes it more likely that the consumer simply wants a convenient location to pick up the product. On the other, it could be said that the retailer must be better prepared to offer expert advice on the product category. I think the retailer needs to focus on providing a holistic experience for both the consumer and the manufacturer. For the consumer, it means being able to offer absolute certainty online that if the consumer gets in their car and drives to the store they will be able to get the product they want. It also means that returns will be a lot easier than repacking an online purchase. At the other end, the retailer must work with the manufacturers to make sure the customer has a good experience with their products. The improved tracking of product serial numbers should make it easier for manufacturers to implement wholesale price controls that to reward retailers who take on more responsibility for post sale support. This could… Read more »
Larry Negrich
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Retailers should strive to create a web experience that is as friendly, helpful, and informative as an interaction with a top-flight personal shopper. Shoppers should be quickly presented with information on the searched product, plus the options—pickup/delivery, colors, similar products, complimentary products, and history of their past purchases. Then the fun part: the retailer knows who this person holding the device is (at least they should know) and they now have the ability to present an offer that influences the shopper to take immediate action or influence a store visit in the near future.

Does time of day matter? Yes. So does location, site browsing history, purchase history, and a host of other factors that are all available and that can help the retailer to better serve the customer and improve the shopping experience.

Joan Treistman
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Jason’s references to all the touch points for consumers underscores the need for retailers to better understand how their shoppers conduct online research before purchases. Anticipating the intersection of the shopper and retail is crucial in that there are many stopping points along the way where the retailer may be showcased or lost in the shuffle.

If retailers’ energy and online investment are focused on their own website only, they will lose the opportunity to influence in store visits and sales. Retailers can pop up anywhere when consumers are spending hours online to discover products and prices. It would be naive not to plan to meet the shopper somewhere along the online search, where the retailer can have the most impact.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Are we at the start of a trend that will become more relevant in the future? Yes, I believe we are. As the younger, high school age population become adults and enter the business world, we will see them leading the way to more online browsing and purchasing. The senior age purchaser today is not a computer-literate buyer. The younger groups are more computer savvy. Probably those in their 20s are the most savvy and will lead the way for more online sales as they grow older.

Karen S. Herman
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Halloween is a prime example of online browsing with the recent ICSC Halloween Consumer Spending Survey finding that 90% of households polled planned to purchase in physical stores and 41% would be “webrooming” or researching Halloween items online and then purchasing in physical stores.

For me, key indicators of this survey were that nearly 1/3 of respondents liked the ability to “see, touch and try on” Halloween items, and 29% liked the aspect of “one-stop shopping.” Both of these stats support the popularity of Pop Up retail for Halloween shops and stores. Only 7% of those who participated in the survey planned to buy Halloween items online.

Best for retailers to embrace webrooming and invest in Pop Up retail for Halloween, like Party City has done with Halloween City.

Francesca Nicasio
Guest
Francesca Nicasio
4 years 9 months ago

I agree with Tom. One of the best things retailers can do to capitalize on the popularity of online research is to keep up (or further enhance) their online marketing efforts. Retailers need to make sure that they can get in front of users during the research/discovery stage.

SEM can be effective in accomplishing this. In addition to that though, retailers can further optimize their websites to make the offerings and product recommendations relevant to each user. Then there’s social media. Sites such as Pinterest and Instagram are popular among online window shoppers and they do a great job at generating intent.

The challenge is converting the user once their intent turns into action. In other words, merchants must figure out how they can be the go-to retailer once the research phase is over and the shopper finally decides to make a purchase.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
4 years 9 months ago

Retailers can capitalize by being retailers and think about winning over audiences—here’s what I found from this piece:

1. The “10 pm to 4 am shopper” – including these sub audiences: a. The internet is my meal replacement; b. The guilty spouse
2. The “smartphone/”I don’t need your help” shopper
3. The Early season/research-driven shopper
4. Pinterest is my showroom, and influencers my spark shopper
5. YouTube is my product and process teacher shopper

So, you can get creative around these/your core/swing vote audiences or you can send Google a check. And then later search on Google for private equity firms who might take you private.

Shep Hyken
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

It wasn’t that many years ago when I would peruse numerous catalogs before making a decision to purchase something. (Okay, it was that many years ago!) I see the online research as my catalog browsing on steroids. What I like about the concept of online research is that the customer is coming in to buy, cutting the time to purchase down dramatically.

Consumer will browse and research online when it is convenient for them—which is usually hours outside of the typical work day. That may mean that CSRs might be available to answer questions throughout the night. One sure way to lose a sale is to not be available (or open for business) when the customer has the time to shop.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Those with jobs would doubtful make up much of that 1/3 of shoppers between 10 pm and 4 am. And it is searches folks, not purchasing.

I join the chorus of considering the source before jumping to conclusions—online is still just 10% of retail, despite what the PR machines continue to drum out.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Retailers and CPG brands still need to know where to find their consumers. As online shopping grows for the foreseeable future, merchants and brands need to leverage tools that literally help “find” their target audience on a global basis—whether that merchant is currently a global business yet or not. As trends like this accelerate, knowledge of tools available today is critical for eCommerce and other executives.

Once the audience is identified, create a “test group” of people not employed by the company to review your websites, mobile apps, etc. Take a focused look at the ease of use and other characteristics of the sites and apps. Beyond that, look at site traffic. Does time of day actually matter? If it does (often dependent upon the product categories shopped), respond swiftly with a dedicated team commensurate with the load of incoming queries from shoppers.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
4 years 9 months ago

With 88% of shoppers saying they research online and then buy in-store (webrooming), and 76% of shoppers saying they research in-store and then buy online (showrooming), retailers who can deliver real-time retail through seamless omni-channel experiences will reap the biggest rewards.

To turn webrooming into their advantage, brick and mortar retailers need a unified marketing approach across all these channels—online, in-store, mobile, social, catalog, etc.—to create more in-store transactions, each facet playing a vital part in the omni-channel picture.

These are paragraphs from a recent blog post, “Retailers’ Survival Guide To Webrooming.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

Retailers need to think more like consumers in setting up their web page. What I mean is, the consumer calls a product by one name and the retailer another which they got from the manufacturer. Nothing discourages a consumer searching for an item than to be shown something else, or that the item is not carried. This only makes the consumer upset when they know the retailer carries the item.

On the other side, search software many times returns a long list of items not even related to the request for information.

A great feature of the internet is it is 24/7. All retailers need to do is staff on the same basis to assist consumers. The internet is not 9 to 5.

Alexander Rink
Guest
4 years 8 months ago
The trends are clear, and retailers know that the popularity of online shopping is growing rapidly. However, there are several key factors that retailers can optimize in order to capitalize on the popularity online, increasing the likelihood that shoppers’ dollars are spent in their stores vs. their competitors. First and foremost, make sure you’re competitively priced and positioned in the market. You may not want to be the lowest price, or maybe you do. Either way, make sure you are right-priced for your brand and offering as compared to your competitors. Similarly, familiarize yourself with both your assortment and your competitors’ assortment. It’s crucial, especially around the holidays, to know how what you are selling that your competitors are not, and vice versa. Competitive intelligence is a basic essential for every retailer. Second, improve the power/strength of online shopping by augmenting the channel itself, and your omnichannel experience overall. Make it easy for the consumer to want to shop on their laptop or smartphone: – Create or maintain a mobile-friendly site– Minimize site load time–… Read more »
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