Studies Suggest Web Informs Offline Purchases

New research is lending more support to the idea of the Web as a branding medium, with the NPD Group and Jupiter Media Metrix both publishing studies this week that conclude that consumers’ offline purchase decisions are informed by Web information.

The Port Washington, New York-based retail research firm NPD Group, which drew its findings from a sample of 1,791 consumers, found that about 97 percent of consumers with Web access use the Internet in deciding to make purchases.

Of those consumers, 51 percent said they use the Web to decide on products, while actually making the purchase offline. Additionally, 84 percent of “occasional buyers” — those who say they have made an online purchase only once in the past six months — say they “shop” online but purchase offline.

As a result, Pamela Smith, NPD Group’s vice president of online research, said traditional marketers ought to rethink their online presence in light of the new findings.

“Measuring online sales alone cannot capture the full benefit of a retailer having an Internet presence. We know that even consumers who don’t typically purchase online are using retailers’ Web sites to browse and decide what to buy,” she said. “Although it may not result in a purchase at that time, it could translate directly into an offline sale.”

Separately, Jupiter Media Metrix (which shares chairman Tod Johnson with The NPD Group, where he is chief executive) reported in a study earlier this week that nearly one third of U.S. teens exhibit the same behavior.

Indeed, after studying 615 teenagers, Jupiter found that while 89 percent had never made an online purchase, about 29 percent used the Web to research products before buying in stores.

Furthermore, the teens routinely visited e-commerce sites to gather product information, even though they couldn’t complete online purchases, lacking credit cards.

As a result, Jupiter concludes that marketers ought to consider the influence of online window-shopping when developing ad campaigns, so that they incorporate consistent messaging across multiple ad channels — even ones they don’t anticipate offline buyers or teenagers to see.

“Many teens use the Internet as a shopping mall — a place to meet friends, play games, and shop — even without the intent to purchase,” said Jupiter Metrix analyst Jared Blank. “Teens spend almost as much time on as adults, even though few of those teens can make purchases on the site. Marketers need to recognize the value the Web has on influencing purchases that may take place offline.”

“Integrating online and offline channels is imperative for retailers trying to reach teenagers,” Blank added. “Since so few teenagers purchase online, the Web should be used as an additional means of branding and information dissemination. Players who do this well ensure that their customer communications, whether it’s informational or promotional, share the same messaging on the Web, in their catalogs, and in their stores.”

The reports come out amid a rash of evidence suggesting that Web advertising and marketing can have an affect on consumer behavior beyond immediate clicks. Late last month, Cyber Dialogue issued similar findings, and earlier this week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and several of its largest publishers unveiled research suggesting that Internet ads can affect purchase intent and brand awareness.

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