February 5, 2008, 12:00 AM

High-value consumers routinely channel hop

A consumer survey from Sterling Commerce finds 64% go online before making a purchase. That percentage is higher among college graduates and younger and wealthier shoppers.

Multi-channel shopping has become a standard part of the purchase path for high-value consumers, with shoppers increasingly using the web as a first touch-point and then hopping channels before completing their purchase in any channel, according to a new survey from Sterling Commerce, a provider of business management software that supports multi-channel retailing.

The survey of 1,005 consumers, fielded January 18-20, found that 64% of those responding went online before making a purchase in the past three months. Among “high-value” consumers that percentage was even higher. Specifically, among those who had household incomes of $75,000 or more, it was 81%; among college graduates, 78%; and among consumers 25 to 34 years of age, 77%.

57% of all surveyed said they went on the web specifically to do research prior to a store purchase. In addition, 24% of those surveyed reported using a coupon or rebate offer found online, while 18% said they’d checked an online gift registry as part of the purchase process.

Again, those percentages were higher among high-value consumers. Among those with incomes of $75,000 or more, 77% did research online as part of a store purchase, 32% used a coupon or rebate found online, and 25% checked an online gift registry in the past three months. Among college graduates, 74% conducted research online before purchasing in-store, 31% used a coupon or rebate obtained online, and 21% had checked with an online gift registry.

Three cross-channel activities were deemed most important by those surveyed. 81% considered the ability to return items purchased online or over the telephone to a store very important or important. The ability to pick up in the store merchandise ordered online was deemed very important or important by 56% of those surveyed overall-and by 69% of those 25 to 34 years of age. Being able to access gift registry information in the store, online and over the telephone was judged very important or important by 56% of all respondents and by 66% of those 25 to 34 years of age.

Consumers also are expecting away-from-home access to the web to enhance their shopping experience. Among survey respondents, 37% considered having access to an online kiosk in the store important, 36% considered it important to have access to their online account while shopping in a store, and 32% wanted call center staff to have a record of what they have been researching online.

“As this survey shows, consumers are demanding new levels of convenience only found when different shopping channels support each other seamlessly,” says Jim Bengier, global retail industry executive for Sterling Commerce, which is a unit of AT&T; Inc.

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