Over the past several years, comScore has done work with both Yahoo! Search Marketing (then Overture) and Google that tracks the impact of search behavior on consumer buying. In those cases, the company has found that the majority of conversions occur offline. Indeed, in virtually every presentation I do about Local I point out that although e-commerce is now over $100 million annually, roughly 97% of US consumer retail spending is offline. And it's likely to stay that way (give or take a couple of percentage points) well into the foreseeable future.
However it's estimated that, as of last year, almost $350 million in annual consumer spending was influenced by the Internet. Yahoo! in its numerous consumer studies has documented this pattern: consumers research, compare and consider online and largely buy offline – especially where "high consideration" items are concerned. Beyond retail, almost 100% of services are fulfilled offline. But the relationship between online and offline is now highly blurred, with consumers using the Internet as a research tool and directory before buying locally.
Getting a real handle on all this behavior has been elusive and only occasional. That's why comScore's new qSearch Retail tracking study will be incredibly valuable. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Watch points to a ClickZ article that explains and announces the new ongoing survey.
As more and more consumer behavior is made more transparent I predict we'll see more money (and more brand money) flowing online and into search, which starts to look a lot more complex and a lot less like "direct response" the more you consider consumer interaction with it.