March 25, 2008, 12:00 AM

Prior to buying, consumers sink big time into online research, survey finds

67% of shoppers surveyed by Krillion and The E-Tailing Group spend almost one-third of their online shopping time in product research. Among some consumers, that’s 50%.

The online shopper of today is knowledgeable about researching online before buying, and is inclined to do just that. 67% of online shoppers in a new survey of 1,000 consumers said that more than 30% of their total online shopping time was spent researching products. For a subset of this group, dubbed “web-informed" by the survey sponsors, online research accounted for more than 50% of their online shopping time.

The Web/Store Cross-Channel Shopping Survey, released by local shopping search services vendor Krillion and The E-Tailing Group, found that shoppers are looking to the web prior to purchase for such data as product information, buying guides, and reviews of the products they wish to buy.

As the complexity of a product increases, consumers are more likely to research both online and offline, then complete their purchase at a local store, the survey determined. For example, if looking for a consumer electronics product, 57% of shoppers surveyed said they’d do their research using a combination of store visits and online investigation before ultimately making the purchase in a store. By contrast, only 48% of those shopping for baby gear said they’d use this approach.

Among consumers seeking manufacturer-specific data on big-ticket products, manufacturers’ web sites were rated an important destination by 72% of those surveyed, while 54% cited retailer web sites and 50% comparison shopping engines. In general, 61% of those surveyed rated manufacturer web sites as the most essential source for all online product research, versus 35% who rated them somewhat essential and 4% the least essential resource. Retailer sites were deemed a most essential resource by 54% of respondents and search engines by 53%.

The information-gathering process can begin days or even months before the actual purchase, depending on the product, the survey found. 20% of consumers said they went online to research sporting goods one day ahead of purchase, while 40% said they went online to research weeks or even months ahead of purchasing a computer.

The survey also determined that online shoppers have embraced the order online, pickup in store option, with 55% of those surveyed saying they have purchased a product in this way. Among the so-called web-informed buyers who spend more time researching online, this number was 60%.

“The study highlights the fact that consumers are actively gathering detailed product information, insight from other shoppers, and third-party validation from multiple sources – regardless of where they end up consummating the final purchase,” says Sherry Thomas-Zon, vice president of marketing at Krillion, which commissioned the survey. “That means retailers must be poised for a confident, ready buyer who has done his or her homework and could buy through any channel at any moment.”

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