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Window Shoppers, Soda Jerks and Dodo Birds

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Like the big blue public mailboxes, and the pay phones before that, window shoppers are diminishing; perhaps resident mall grandpas too, people-watching and purse-holding. Actual shopping – that is, comparing – is done online, even if the purchase is often offline.

Technophiles are the most noticeably absent from outside the glass, exhibiting a pattern of truancy until it is time to buy that flat screen after all.

These consumers, according to Yahoo and the Consumer Electronics Association, the ones buying cell phones, computers, digital cameras, digital music players and televisions, did their tire-kicking and gold-biting online before setting foot in the store.

Up to 77 percent of consumer electronics (CE) purchases were influenced by Internet research, Yahoo! reports in its joint CEA study “Understanding How Consumers Use the Internet to Research and Shop for CE Products.” What the title lacks in sexiness, it makes up for in clarity.

The most interesting revelation from the study though, is that people who use search for online research are 114 percent more likely to consider display advertising during that research phase.

The study, conducted by Hall and Partners, confirmed what you might expect: the more expensive an item, the more time people spend minimizing buyer’s remorse through research. For cell phones, the amount of time researching was relatively low: about nine hours. For televisions, they spent 15 hours, three hours above the average.

“Of the total $32.5 billion spent on the CE products tracked in this study, online research influenced a striking 77 percent or $25.1 billion,” said Senior Director of Market Research Tim Herbert, CEA.

“Consumers naturally want to make informed CE buying decisions and we found they are turning to the Internet for their research. This includes search engines, manufacturer’s websites, retail websites and shopping engines.”

It’s understandable that the majority of these purchases are made offline. Perhaps those of us that remember life before the Internet acutely understand what it is like to physically touch an expensive object before purchase. Being in the store helps with that part of buyer’s remorse – in person there is less levity, less whimsy about it. But the study didn’t say that, I did.

Seventy-three percent of consumers said the ease of online price comparison aided the research phase, while 64 percent preferred virtual shopping because of the wider variety of products. For you shop-till-you-drop types, both allow for more shopping and less dropping – less traffic, parking, and walking, too. Forty-five percent of those researching online and purchasing offline use a search engine during the information gathering process.

“Today’s information-hungry consumers turn to multiple sources. Traditional sources of information are still leveraged by purchasers in the shopping process. These include print and television ads, word-of-mouth and the in-store experience. The average consumer uses six different sources to guide their decision. Getting the right mix of sources is critical to a manufacturer’s success,” said Herbert.

The study also looked into the differences between “searchers” and “non-searchers.” Searchers represent 47 percent of the shopping population. They tend to be more educated about the products they buy; are likely spread good (and bad, I would imagine) information about brands by word-of-mouth; and are often considered a resource of information by friends and family.

“Although ‘searchers’ and ‘non-searchers’ are very similar demographically, those who prefer to use search to research and purchase CE products have a totally different mindset,” said David Rubinstein, Tech and Telecom Category Director for Yahoo! Search Marketing,

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Window Shoppers, Soda Jerks and Dodo Birds
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