Forrester Looking at Wrong End of Commerce

The WSJ and TechCrunch cover Forrester’s relatively bullish e-commerce forecast. This is from the WSJ:

In 2009, e-commerce in the U.S. managed to buck the recession that dragged down the rest of retail, growing 11% to reach $155.2 billion, according to Forrester Research. The research firm is predicting in a report out Monday that e-commerce in America will grow another 11% this year.

The Forrester e-commerce number from 2009 — 6% of total retail sales — is inflated. Forrester uses a smaller sample than US government data, which shows e-commerce at 3.8% of total US retail sales (in Q4).

Here’s the more interesting part of the Forrester data, as reported in the WSJ:

And a new area of focus for retailers isn’t online buying at all. Rather, it us using the Internet and mobile technology to influence sales that happen in stores. Already Forrester’s study found that 42% of all retail purchases in 2009 – worth some $917 billion – were influenced by the Web in some way. By 2014 that figure is likely to jump to 53%.

These figures are probably off as well. The online –>offline number should be larger. Recall that Compete/TNS conducted a survey in which it found that 94% did research online prior to (online) purchase. Prior studies by comScore, BIGResearch, Yahoo! and others have found 80% to more than 90% of consumers buying in-store have consulted the Internet for information prior to purchase.

The challenge, in gaining a true picture of consumer behavior, is measuring this online–>offline impact on a campaign basis. There are various methodologies to try and get at this: call tracking, coupons, surveys, sales lift, attribution modeling.

Ironically, as I’ve said in the past, mobile will likely boost e-commerce as people visit stores to check out products and then buy online if they find a better price.

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