January 10, 2008, 12:00 AM

Online consumers prefer to buy offline, study says

Web buyers—while growing in number—still prefer to buy in traditional offline stores, according to Forrester Research. But e-retailers can win more market share with targeted marketing messages to price-sensitive shoppers, it adds.

Although the number of online buyers is increasing, web buyers still prefer to shop in traditional offline stores, according to a new study from Forrester Research Inc.

During a three-month period last year, web buyers spent on average $511 at retail stores, compared with $313 spent online, according to the study. In addition, two-thirds of online buyers ranked retail stores as their preferred shopping channel, outpacing the 31% who turn first to the web for shopping needs. 54% of web buyers make purchases at a retail store at least weekly, while only 16% buy over the web on a weekly basis.

Online consumers also expect to find more bargain-basement prices online than in stores, despite multi-channel retailers’ efforts to become channel-agnostic with their pricing strategies, Forrester says in the study, “Retail Channel Surfers Prefer to Buy Offline,” by Forrester analysts Carrie Johnson and Peter Hult. Two-thirds of web buyers feel that the price of an item should be lower online than in a store, while fewer than one-third expect to find a lower price in other channels. 73% of male web buyers expect a better deal over the web, compared with 60% of female web buyers.

The expectation of a cheaper price online than in the store increases steadily with online tenure: 58% of web buyers with less than three years of online tenure versus 71% of web buyers with 10 or more years of online experience.

But the study also provides encouraging insights for e-retailers. It shows that the online channel is far ahead of catalog, phone and TV shopping channels, and it notes that 68% of web buyers purchase online at least once a month, compared to 11% for catalogs.

Online retailers should address the gap with stores, the report suggests, “by using targeted marketing campaigns, feeding on the growth in multi-channel retail, and implementing better promotional strategies.” With online consumers particularly price-sensitive, web merchants should take advantage of their ability to engage shoppers in targeted online price promotions, Forrester adds.

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