December 18, 2008, 12:00 AM

55% of online consumers visit a retailer’s web site before going to a store

The main reason they go online first is to compare prices, Nielsen Online reports. The survey also found that 81% of online shoppers have read reviews written by other consumers about a product or retailer while doing their holiday shopping this year.

Consumers are using the web to gather information before they buy this holiday season, including making extensive use of customer reviews and visiting retailers’ web sites before heading to the mall, according to a recent survey by Nielsen Online, a unit of the Nielsen Company.

81% of online shoppers have read reviews written by other consumers about a product or retailer while doing their holiday shopping this year, and 71% said reviews make them feel more comfortable that they are buying the right product, the survey shows. The results are based on a survey of about 1,000 online shoppers Dec. 8-15.

Asked what factors they consider when evaluating customer reviews, 63% said that the product has multiple ratings or reviews, 14% that the reviews come from an established source and 3% that it comes from someone the consumer knows.

“Consumer reviews are a must-have for online retailers, especially during the holiday season when shoppers are buying for others in categories they’re less familiar with,” says Ken Cassar, vice president, industry insights at Nielsen Online. “Perhaps more than any other time of year, consumers are looking for outside feedback for guidance.”

They also want to be prepared before they go into stores, and are using the web as an information source, the survey shows. 55% of respondents said they have gone to a web site of a local retail store before visiting the physical store. Here are the top five reasons they visited the web site first:

  • Wanted to compare prices of different retailers before shopping, 33%
  • Wanted to see if product was in stock, 28%
  • Wanted to find sales in the store, 26%
  • Wanted to find holiday gift ideas before shopping, 22%
  • Ordered online for in-store pickup, 12%

“With strong sales growth online in recent years, online sales have become the sole focus in assessing web retailers’ holiday season success,” Cassar says. “This year, however, retailers should consider the online contribution to store sales, in addition to online sales, when evaluating how well the season went.”

The main reason for visiting a particular retailer’s web site was having made a purchase there in the past, cited by 62%. 38% said they found a retailer’s site through search engines, 31% as a result of receiving a catalog in the mail, 25% from an e-mail promotion and 25% from an e-newsletter from the retailer.

24% of survey respondents said they have spent more than $500 online already this holiday season, 5% $400-499, 13% $300-399, 17% $200-299, 22% $100-199 and 18% less than $100. Convenience was cited most often as the reason to shop online, mentioned by 78% of online shoppers surveyed.

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