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How Consumers Shop Online
From ChannelAdviser Newsletter August 2009

How Consumers Shop Online - A bi-annual study of consumer buying behavior and how you can benefit

Swimming Pool And Hot Tub Shoppers And Buyers Are Out There

Consumers are researching pools and spas extensively online.  Even during this deep recession, pools and spas are being sold.  Certainly not at the levels that they used to be sold...but none the less, they are being sold.

There is a HUGE pent-up demand for pool and spa products right now.  Once the recession breaks, the pool and spa industry will see a surge in consumer purchasing equivalent to, if not more than, the period after the 09/11 tragedy......when air travel and vacationing virtually stopped, and the pool & spa industry soared from 2002 all the way until 2008.

Having your company positioned to take advantage of this upcoming swell in business is most important.  Having your products advertised on pool and spa comparison niche web sites such as Pool and Spa Living, Pool Search, Spa Search, Poolandspa.com, etc. should be one of your main marketing priorities throughout the end of 2009 and into 2010.  The research and impressions that consumers receive now, will greatly effect their purchasing behavior when it is "their time to buy" and when "consumer confidence" returns.

Consumer Study

The economy continues to change consumers’ mindsets about when they should shop, how to shop and eventually what to purchase. One benefit of this trend for online retailers is that consumers continue to spend large amounts of time online as they seek out and take advantage of the best possible deals they can find.

Channel Adviser is building upon a study theypublished in Q1 2009 that sought to identify how consumers shopped online during the holiday season in 2008. Here we examine how those behaviors have changed and, more importantly, the trends we have identified that your business needs to be preparing for heading into the holiday season.

We discovered that:

1. Consumers are spending about the same amount of time online but are spending less money – scouring the Web for deals that yield higher savings and offer extra value above and beyond low prices.
2. Shoppers don’t necessarily realize where they purchase and may not understand how Google Product Search and other comparison shopping engines function.
3. Amazon and eBay are top-of-mind retail brands, but Amazon commands twice the mindshare of eBay.
4. Free shipping and peer ratings/reviews hold more influence over purchasing decisions than they did in 2008.
5. 70 percent of consumers said they regularly purchase from eBay or Amazon.
6. 81 percent of consumers begin their product searches with Google and 11 percent begin with Yahoo – which is an increase of five
percentage points in favor of Google, and a six percent decrease in Yahoo usage.
7. Bing is making a quick impact since it launched on May 28, accounting for two percent of searches and 13 percent of
respondents already having used Bing Cashback – a share that will grow in light of the recent Yahoo/Microsoft search deal.1
8. Shoppers are diversifying the comparison shopping engines they use to research products, prices and deals. We discovered some useful trends by comparing consumer behavioral data to actual internal sales data from thousands of online retailers that make up the ChannelAdvisor customer base. These findings are the result of surveys taken by 824 individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 years old and from 29 states throughout the United States.

Consumers are researching more and are spending less

Consumers reported they now spend less money online than they did from our survey in Q1 2009, with 11 percent more consumers reporting they spend $0-$20 per month on online purchases. At the same time, consumers reporting they spend over $76 per month on online purchases declined by nine percent.

This trend coincides with a change in how consumers spend their time online. While we found that consumers did not materially increase or decrease the overall time spent online (seasonality factors like summer vacations no doubt also affect this statistic), browsers are devoting a higher percentage of their time to researching products and prices. This is contributing to a growth in search volume dedicated to online retail, the amount of time spent on retail-specific sites (which has increased by nine percent in the past year), and more effort devoted to seeking out coupons and promotions. For example, consumers are using more sophisticated, specific searches to seek out the exact products and deals they want. As a sign of this trend, Google recently reported an eight percent increase in searches comprised of three words or more.

Shoppers don’t necessarily realize where they buy

Despite spending a higher percentage of their online time devoted to research and deal-seeking, consumers still may not necessarily realize where they make their final purchase – or the sites they used to get there. When asked where in the past six months they had purchased a product online, 17 percent believed they had actually purchased a product from a major search engine. And when it came to comparison shopping engines, seven percent believed they had purchased a product from Shopping.com, Shopzilla, NexTag or PriceGrabber.

Yet consumers clearly recognized that they bought from eBay, Amazon and Buy.com, with 76 percent of respondents identifying these sites as purchase points. We believe this highlights a persistent trend in multi-channel retailing – shoppers don’t necessarily realize where they buy their products, but they will definitely use all the tools at their disposal to locate the deals they want. Furthermore, just because consumers are able to use tools like comparison shopping engines to find deals, it doesn’t necessarily mean these individuals are aware of the sites they’re using. With consumers laser-focused on the lowest possible prices and best deals available when they are ready to make a purchase, it continues to be imperative for online retailers to have a strong presence on as many channels as possible (search engines, comparison shopping engines, marketplaces, online storefront, affiliates, email). This maximizes findability, increases brand awareness and enhances search engine favorability. eBay and Amazon contribute to 70 percent of purchases Participants indicated that Amazon is the first online retailer that comes to mind – commanding 30 percent mindshare followed by eBay, Walmart, Target, Overstock and Best Buy.

And when asked from what sites consumers regularly purchased, 70 percent of respondents indicated Amazon and eBay were consistent shopping destinations – with each site ranking very close to each other in terms of purchase regularity. On-site purchases are driven by value enhancers, security features Free shipping, peer reviews/ratings, free returns and the ability to view products from multiple angles are the most influential purchase drivers on a retailer’s storefront, consumers report. Free shipping and returns have increased the most in influence since our last survey – as did the ability for consumers to verify the validity of a retailer through “trustmarks” such as Hacker Safe, Verisign, etc. These trends should not be surprising – consumers want to ensure they are maximizing their time by purchasing products from retailers that offer the best price and the best value. Furthermore, they want to feel secure in their purchase decision, as evidenced by the increase in influence of rich imaging product views and trustmarks. Consumers not only want to ensure they’re going to receive the product they sought out to purchase, but also want a guarantee that their personal data will be safe.

Search is integral to the purchase decision

Search engines remain the essential starting point on the path to a purchase decision – serving as the originator of product research and deal seeking. Our results show that Google has benefited the most from consumers who are spending a greater percentage of their time conducting product research, increasing five percentage points to 81 percent of consumers since Q1 2009 as the place where product-related searches are started. Yahoo’s influence, on the other hand, suffered by six percentage points, while Bing has already captured two percent of origination searches. Search engines in general are benefiting from increased query volumes and are driving more visits than ever before. The net result is more visibility for online retailers, deal sites and product research destinations. Advertisers should definitely take advantage of these trends.

It’s worth mentioning the newest search contender, Bing, and the news that Bing’s ad click rate may be as much as 50 percent higher than Google’s and 20 percent higher than Yahoo’s.3 One explanation may simply be that Bing users are more willing to click on ads – or that Bing’s ad selectivity could be making ads even more relevant to searches, thus increasing the likelihood they’ll be clicked.

Comparison shopping engines can’t be ignored

Comparison shopping engine awareness and usage has remained fairly consistent – including the fact that consumers diversify greatly the sites they use. Shopping.com benefited the most from Q1 2009, as respondents indicated they used the site more often by two percent. Surprisingly, Yahoo! Shopping and Google Product Search did not rank – we believe this is another example of how unaware consumers are of where they shop or browse. Since both shopping sites are embedded into the search engines, the shopping experience may be seamless enough that the majority of searchers do not realize how they found a product.

Although consumers aren’t attached to specific comparison shopping engines in the same way they’re attached to Google, Amazon and eBay, they still play a significant role in product research and purchasing decisions. It’s no wonder when you consider the sheer number of comparison shopping sites available for consumers to browse. There are a couple of ways retailers should evaluate comparison shopping engines to determine where energy should be focused. First, you should consider which sites consumers are visiting, ie look at traffic. Being aware of where consumers are doing product research is good, but knowing which comparison shopping engines are generating conversions is even better.

Conclusions

Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy at using all online channels to conduct research before making buying decisions. From pricing, to coupons, to shipping, to reviews, to brand perception, retailers need to be conscious of how they are viewed from a consumers shopping experience.

We believe that retailers should adopt a sound multi-channel strategy for selling online. With the holidays quickly approaching, online retailers need to ensure they are appealing to cautious consumers in as many ways as possible.

Use our key findings to improve ways that you reach and communicate to buyers:

· Consumers are researching more and are spending less.
· Shoppers don’t necessarily realize where they buy.
· Amazon and eBay contribute to 70 percent of purchases.
· On-site purchases are driven by value enhancers, security features.
· Search is integral to the purchase decision.
· Comparison shopping engines can’t be ignored
· Positioning your company on niche comparison web sites in 2009 and 2010 will prove very beneficial

Much of the information above from ChannelAdvisor www.channeladvisor.com  Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved