May 21, 2010, 2:56 PM

Consumers who first shop stores are less satisfied after buying online

Consumers who research products in stores before buying products on a retail web site are less satisfied with the experience than consumers who do the opposite—web research before making in-store purchases—suggests survey data from Forrester Research.

Consumers who research products in stores before buying products on a retail web site are less satisfied with the experience than consumers who do the opposite—web research before making in-store purchases—suggests survey data from Forrester Research Inc.

The effect was particularly pronounced among consumers shopping for goods in three categories—consumer electronics; apparel, footwear and accessories; and wireless phones and services.

For consumers shopping for electronics, 55% of what Forrester calls store-to-web consumers reported being satisfied, compared with 66% of web-to-store consumers. For apparel, 53% of store-to-web consumers were satisfied, compared with 60% of web-to-store consumers. For wireless phones and services, 48% of store-to-web consumers were satisfied, compared with 54% of web-to-store consumers.

The findings are based on online surveys of 4,723 U.S. consumers conducted in August.

Common problems for store-to-web shoppers included consumers’ inability to find the same product at the same price on retail web sites after visiting a store. In consumer electronics, shoppers often complained that they could not check from inside a store whether a product was also available online. For all three categories, consumers who researched in stores before buying online complained about having to pay shipping fees for the online purchases.

The study did not ask consumer why they researched their purchases in a store before buying online, but it is likely that at least some of them bought products online that were out of stock in stores, says Adele Sage, the study’s lead author.

Generally, older store-to-web consumers reported less satisfaction with the cross-channel retail experience than younger consumers, but Sage says older Baby Boomers were more satisfied than younger Baby Boomers. She cannot explain why that would be the case.

The survey findings suggest that online retailers might want to offer free shipping to customers making web purchases from inside stores, from kiosks, for instance, even if that requires special authorization from store clerks. Retailers also should make sure that products have the same names on the web as they do inside stores so that consumers shopping in both channels are not confused. Sage also recommends that retailers make it easier for in-store shoppers to print out product information, including SKU numbers, that can aid web research at home.

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