New research reveals that UK consumers take a truly multi-channel approach to shopping for non-supermarket goods, using a range of touch points for browsing and purchasing. The study indicated that the vast majority of consumers prefer to research goods and services online before going to the high street to actually make their purchases.
The GI Insight survey of 2,000 consumers from around the UK showed that 72% of consumers prefer to browse and research their purchases online, while only 19% of shoppers prefer to vet their potential purchases in-store. The study also revealed that almost equal proportions of consumers state a preference for making their non-supermarket purchases on the internet and in a store – 46% online and 47% on the high street.
In addition, the figures indicate a niche of consumers still prefer to do their browsing and buying via print catalogue – 5% and 3% respectively. The findings show that men prefer to browse and buy online – with 50% purchasing on the internet compared to 42% of women, and 74% browsing on the web compared to 69% of women.
Women show a greater preference for shopping on the high street than men, with 52% preferring to purchase in-store compared to 41% of men, and 22% browsing in store versus 17% of men. Older consumers show a marked inclination for buying in-store with 62% of respondents in the 55 to 64 age group stating they prefer to buy in a shop and only 33% giving online as their preference – but their browsing habits were more in line with the average, as 69% say they prefer to do their research online.
Andy Wood, managing director of GI Insight, comments: “These figures clearly indicate that UK consumers see shopping as a multi-channel activity and process.
“The most obvious trend evident in the findings is that consumers often look for and research products online – doing price comparisons and checking product reviews – before going to the high street to buy in-store. But the reverse can also be true and undoubtedly a smaller proportion of shoppers go to the high street to look, feel and try out – or try on – their prospective purchases before going home to buy online.”
While the findings indicate that a core of consumers expect firms to be accessible both online and on the high street – and, for some, via catalogue as well – the vast majority will still buy from a brand that does not offer one of the major channels for purchasing.
Only 28% say they would not purchase from a firm that failed to offer online shopping while just 23% would refuse to buy from a brand without a high street presence – and merely 11% demand that a company have a catalogue. Consumers with the highest household incomes are most wedded to high street brands – 53% of those in the £100,000-£149,000 household income range and 44% of those in the £150,000-plus bracket say they would only buy from a firm with high street presence, compared with just over 20% in lower income groups.
A significant proportion of consumers, however, do expect businesses to offer a range of options for getting in direct contact with the company – with 39% saying they would switch to a competitor if a firm they deal with did not offer choice in this area, and more than 48% saying this would be the case with a company they had not bought from before.
Wood notes: “The results show a large majority don’t mind if a brand is only available over one channel for purchasing – underlining the fact that most consumers are flexible enough to switch channels where necessary. But when it comes to getting in touch with a company for general information, taking up an offer, help, servicing, problems, complaints and other forms of communication, a sizable proportion of consumers do want a choice of channel for getting in touch with that firm.”
He adds: “Brands can’t view their businesses in silos – as stand-alone web or bricks-and-mortar operations with separate customers – because that is not how consumers view them. For consumers, a brand is the same over the internet as it is in its mail-order catalogues as it is on the high street as it is over the phone. And when it comes to customer service, they expect a firm to be accessible through their preferred touch point, whether that is email, web form, phone, post, or face-to-face.
“More than ever, businesses operating across channels need to understand their customers’ shopping habits and preferences. How a customer will respond to a company and through which channel is very murky once you aggregate data to the top level. The only way to deal with it is to track each consumer with data and analysis and respond accordingly.”
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