May 23, 2002, 12:00 AM

Let your fingers do the walking--on a keyboard

Of the top three reasons consumers use web sites, Nos. 1 and 3 are not to buy--they are to research products and find a store. No. 2 is to buy.

If anyone needed any confirmation, a new survey from consultants Retail Forward Inc. demonstrates that the Internet is definitely a multi-channel vehicle. Of the top three reasons that consumers use retail web sites, only one was to buy something—and that reason wasn’t even Number One.

Columbus, Ohio-based Retail Forward’s E-Retail Intelligence Program surveyed 707 Internet users from March 28 to April 1. The survey found that the top three reasons consumers visit retail web sites are to research products, make online purchases and find a store, in that order.

Half of the consumers surveyed cited product research as the top reason they use store web sites, while 40% said they use the sites for online purchases and 31% said they used the store locator. Only 5% of those surveyed said they had never visited the web site of a store-based retailer.

The research function is backed up by another bit of statistical information in the survey. “43% of Internet users say more than ever they know what they want to buy in advance, which is a strong indication that they’re using the web site for research,” says Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president and director of the E-retail Intelligence Program.

Whitfield says the results give credence to much retailer anecdotal evidence that customers come into the store carrying pages they print out from the web site. Whitfield says the popularity of the store-locator function indicates that web sites might be replacing yellow pages ads. Online shoppers who cited the store locator as a top-three use of retail web sites also used the sites to get store hours, directions and other basic store information.

Consumers expect-and get-a lot from store web sites Agree Neutral Disagree
I expect sales associates in stores to be able to go online in the store to provide me with customer assistance 51% 24% 20%
Going to a store retailer`s web site before shopping at the store makes my store shopping experience more efficient 49% 24% 19%
More than ever, I know what I want to buy when I go to a store because I`ve done research at the store`s web site 43% 26% 24%
I do a lot of online browsing at manufacturers` web sites before I go shopping at stores 41% 24% 27%
Going to a store retailer`s web site before shopping at the store helps me save money 37% 35% 20%
I do a lot of online browsing at store retailers` web sites before I go shopping at stores 36% 24% 33%
I typically visit manufacturers` web sites before shopping at stores 33% 25% 34%
It is important for a store to provide access to its online shopping site in the actual store 28% 38% 30%
I typically visit a retailer`s online shopping site before shopping at that retailer`s store 22% 29% 41%
E-mails from store retailers help me decide where to go shopping 21% 31% 40%
Source: Internet Users Consumer Panel, March 2002, Retail Forward
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