Online Shopping, Offline Conversions

Study after study confirms what we’ve known for a long long time: that consumers do research online but make the overwhelming majority of purchases offline. This article in MediaPost, profiling a study done by comScore for Google, offers yet more evidence. From the comScore press release:

comScore Networks today released results from a new research study that confirms the importance of search in influencing offline buying. The results show that 25 percent of searchers purchased an item directly related to their query, and that of those buyers, 37 percent completed their purchase online. An even greater 63 percent completed a purchase offline following their search activity.

The study, sponsored by Google, entitled “The Role of Search in Consumer Buying” examined the impact of Web search (excluding comparison shopping sites) on consumers’ holiday-related purchases completed online and offline during November and December 2005, across 11 product categories. The study reflects the searching behavior of 83 million Americans who conducted more than 552 million searches in the categories analyzed using one or more of the 24 leading search engines.

The emphasis in this release and in the article partly obscures something more profound. Note that only a minority (25%) of search engine users purchased something directly after a query. What about the 75% who did not? Their behavior is much more elusive; and at the end of some probably convoluted research process they’re equally going to a physical store to make a purchase. All this confirms — I’ve written about this many times in the past — that calling search a “direct response” medium doesn’t really capture the nature of how consumers interact with it.

These data and the results of other studies confirm both a potential ROI calculation challenge (in figuring out how to think about paid search spending) as well as a more fundamental tracking challenge. The behavior of that 75% is mostly invisible to marketers, but it may be equally influenced by search and/or other online media. We’ll be talking about these and other issues related to online shopping and offling buying behavior next week on the panel:

The New ‘Purchase Funnel’: Online Shopping, Offline Conversions
Even though e-commerce may have reached US$90 billion in 2005, it represents just 2.5 percent of total U.S. retail. Yet the Internet is having a growing influence over offline consumer behavior. What is the precise nature of this new purchase funnel? Where do consumers start, and where do they typically end up online before buying offline? Is paid search truly a direct response medium? What categories of sites are the most effective sources of offline conversions? Will we see more search/shopping engines add local inventory information this year? These and other relevant questions will be explored in depth.

Kendall Fargo, CEO, StepUp Commerce, Inc.
Brian Hand, CEO, ShopLocal.com
Catherine Kelly, Chief Technology Officer, HarvestINFO
John Kim, Sr. Director, Advertiser Product Marketing, Yahoo! Search Marketing
John Melideo, CEO, Jambo
Rob Wight, CEO, Channel Intelligence


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