February 27, 2003, 12:00 AM

Retail web surfing may be headed for a wipeout

Latest data from two market studies say consumers may be less prone to searching the web than they were a year or two ago.

One of the major approaches to marketing on the web has been to get to enough spots so that consumers came across you as they were traveling the web. But the latest data from two market studies say consumers may be less prone to searching the web than they were a year or two ago.

The latest report from marketing company Valentine Radford Inc.’s quarterly iCustomer Observer survey of 5,000 consumers says that the percentage of consumers who go online very often or often to conduct product research fell to 67% last August from 79% in August 2000. Similarly, those who search the web for price information very often or often fell to 60% from 79% two years earlier.

That, in turn, means consumers have established shopping patterns just like in traditional shopping and retailers will have to find new ways of marketing to dislodge those patterns.

“In 2000, people were still playing with the Internet and exploring,” Chuck Curtis, Valentine Radford chairman and CEO, says. “This says the surfing phase is over.”

Valentine Radford’s research is backed up by research from analytics provider WebSideStory Inc.’s StatMarket division. 64% of Internet users now arrive at sites by direct navigation, compared to 53% a year ago, StatMarket reports. “The days of web users randomly surfing to sites are ending,” says Geoff Johnston, vice president product marketing for StatMarket. “Now, more than ever, people know exactly where they want to go on the web.”

Online retailers will now face the challenge of dislodging customers from established patterns, Curtis says. “People who got in early before the patterns were set will benefit,” he says. “It’s going to be tougher for retailers who want to change those patterns.”

Further indication that consumers are familiar enough with the web today to rely on their own shopping patterns rather than on cruising the web for information comes from an iCustomer Observer question about how often consumers search for product by brand name. The percent who search by brand very often or often fell to 39% from 55% two years earlier. “People have destinations on the web that they go to and are probably bookmarking sites they like,” Curtis says.

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