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April 9, 2016

Consumers Mix Online Media Research with Offline Shopping Habits

Published: 9 April 2016 

The fear that all shopping will go online leaving only the crumbs for the retail shops isn’t coming to pass in the way it was envisaged. Sure, there are people who comparison shop with the Amazon app open, scanning barcodes and checking local prices vs buying online, but most consumers aren’t doing this. Instead, they’re using a variety of methods to mix online media research with offline, local-based shopping habits, according to research by Kelsey’s/BIA.

Online Media Use Continues to Rise

With the advent of smartphones and 4G LTE availability, more consumers than ever are researching while in the shop before making their final decision. Sometimes, they’re on the high street or in the shopping centre checking on the availability of a product, comparison shopping to check pricing between shops in the centre itself, or just to verify through Yelp when the local shop closes.

ConStat, a research partner of BIA/Kelsey that conducted the research in-house determined that currently more than 90 percent of consumers actively make use of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to research items of need, find information, get shop opening times, verify their locations, and more.

Local SEO with Google and Bing

Google’s emphasis on providing local search results has been a huge success for the company, as it takes traffic away from other sites like Yelp, which feature a local directory of UK businesses in local areas, reviews, opening hours, etc.

Local businesses now focus heavily on using local search engine optimisation (SEO) via citations, which has data references like their contact number, address, etc. By making sure that they’re consistent throughout their website with this information, business directories can rely on the information being correct when they list it on their sites.

Online Yellow Pages Still Popular

Consumers frequently look up the information on a reference site and not on the shop’s website. This is because each retailer has a different navigation system and site design, which makes finding basic shopper information a time-consuming task. Google and sites like Yelp provide a consistent interface that once learned is easy to find scores of businesses as needed. Consumers require speed of information and accuracy too.

The use of internet yellow pages, which most likely groups together sites that have retail store citations for their store name, address, phone number, and opening hours is on the rise with 48 percent of people looking things up this way. Google is filling in a lot of information gaps by providing opening hours and contact information for local businesses from their search pages, allowing searchers to find what they need even faster.

Online Customer Reviews on the Rise Too

With 24 percent of consumers accessing verticals to dig deeper into product categories and specialist information, the level of research grows in number and complexity with potential buyers. Even before going inside a shop, almost a quarter of consumers have researched some aspect of the product(s) they’re interested in at a specialist online site or a single category of a larger e-commerce site before going shopping.

For retailers across the UK, the difficulty here is that some potential buyers now come armed with a wealth of knowledge about the products they’re interested in. They’ve often read both editorial reviews about a product online and probably compared them to similar models across multiple brands. They’ve considered what features are most important to them and which ones don’t matter in their opinion. For the shoppers who are making use of category verticals to source product information at a greater level of depth, the sales staff have a challenge on their hands.

Sales Staff Need to Recognise the More Knowledgeable Shoppers Early

For sales staff, they need to know their products far more than they did before because if they don’t know, the people entering their shop often will. When staff don’t know their product range on display, it’s difficult to convince people to buy.

As many as 42 percent of shoppers check prices before hitting the high street. Bargain hunters are common and almost 60% of people surveyed hunted for online discount coupons to use in person. For businesses that take appointments, 19 percent of people reported making some kind of appointment in the previous six months. Clearly, people are mixing their online and offline use to pay less and become more efficient with their time.

With a full 97% of consumers using the world wide web to access some information before going to their local shops, almost everyone is tapping online media resources to improve their shopping experience. The number of media sources checked before heading out continues to rise, with around eight being the most recent number recorded.

Consumers clearly don’t mind spending increasing amounts of time selecting the right product, securing a discount when buying locally, and comparing one high-street brand with another to see who has the best prices. For shops, they’ve got to be on their game to get every pound of the shopper’s spending budget when they enter their premises because they may not get a second chance.

Ben Maden

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