• More than half of all US consumers carry out product research on online websites. Among Millennial and Gen-X shoppers, online is the top research source. Baby Boomers are more likely to look at print coupons and newspaper ads/editorials.
• Google ranks as the most frequently used research source for 6 out of 11 key shopping categories. It is the ideal starting point for consumers. Consumers keep coming back to Google upon discovery of new brands during retail visits or while browsing retail websites.
• Consumers are visiting both the store and website to gather information during the research stage. Retail websites do not necessarily replace retails stores. Websites provide technical information as well as product reviews. Stores allow consumers to ‘try and see’ the product.
• Social media and mobile apps lag significantly in frequency of usage compared to other online research sources like Google and retailer websites; as well as traditional media sources such as television, newspaper and magazines.
• Consumers lose trust in brands if the online information they find is incorrect or misleading. Brands should make sure that all information around the products including availability, store directions and timings are accurate and up-to-date
• Consumers actively follow blogs of their favorite brands and find brand information credible when it comes directly form the brand on their blogs.
Every purchase journey starts with the consumer’s research to find information on individual brands or product categories.
The consumer’s objective at this stage is to discover brands and gather as much information as possible on what options are available to it.
The research stage is carried out either Voluntarily or Involuntarily.
In Voluntary Research, consumers actively look for product information using tools like smartphones at shopping destinations such as retail stores.
In Involuntary Research, consumers come upon information relevant to their current needs and wants while going about their daily lives, e.g. seeing a brand related update while browsing their Facebook timeline.
The main difference between Voluntary and Involuntary Research is the perceived amount of effort consumers put in to find information. Since the customer perceives that a larger investment of effort is made in Voluntary Research, they expect a positive return i.e. be able to find information that will help them progress to the next stage of the journey.
Consumers depend on research sources to access the information they seek.
Research sources are information destinations customers voluntarily visit or involuntarily come upon.
Research sources can be:
1. Offline destinations like store displays, events, fairs etc;
2. Traditional media outlets like newspapers, television and magazines;
3. Online sites like search engines, brands blogs, retailer websites, and social media platforms.
Top Research Sources: Millennials vs. Gen X vs. Boomers
More than half of all US consumers carry out product research on online websites.
Among Millennial and Gen-X shoppers, online is the top research source.
55.8% of US Millennials aged 18-34, 59.2% of Gen-Xers aged 35-54, and 54.8% of Baby Boomers aged 55 and above go online to research products.
Television is also a key research sources among US shoppers.
54.7% of US Millennials aged 18-34, 50.2% of Gen-Xers aged 35-54, and 55.5% of Baby Boomers aged 55 and above keep an eye out for TV ads in the pre-purchase research stage.
Word of mouth i.e. asking friends, family, neighbors and colleagues etc. for recommendations; is another highly influential research source along with online search and television.
51% of US Millennials aged 18-34, 55.6% of Gen-Xers aged 35-54, and 52.4% of Baby Boomers aged 55 and above seek out word of mouth from trusted peers while researching brands and products.
Compared to Millennials and Gen-Xers, US Baby Boomers are more likely to look for print coupons and newspapers ads/editorials above all other sources during research.
Among US Baby Boomers aged 55 and above, 61.8% turn to to newspapers and 57.3% to print coupons for shopping research.
Online Sites And Word Of Mouth Beat Television
Despite the prominence of television in shopping research, online and word of mouth trump TV in terms of customer experience.
Customers have greater control over how they carry out the research and which site or what person to trust when they carry out research online or through word of mouth. The uncertainty while waiting for appropriate TV ads, in comparison, is inconvenient.
Online and word of mouth sources also offer the opportunity for repeat interactions. Consumers can come back to the website to clear any doubts or call their peers a second or a third time to ask further questions.
Online and word of mouth also allows for stress-free, leisurely interaction. Consumers can take their time browsing across blogs, videos and reviews trying to find the ideal brand or product that best fits their need. People happen to discuss brands during informal conversations while hanging out with friends.
Google: The Ultimate Source For Shopping Research
Google ranks as the most frequently used research source in 6 out of 11 key shopping categories. The categories are: auto parts, electronics, furniture/housewares, office supplies, sporting goods, and toys.
Toys and sporting goods are personal interest based categories where the need for discovery is very high. Consumers seeking novelty want to start their purchase journey with a wide set of options making Google an ideal starting point.
A Google search for consumer durables in auto parts, electronics, furniture/housewares, and office supplies is largely driven by a hunt for value – finding a balance between price and quality.
Google also ranks among the top 3 most visited research source across home improvement/building supplies, pet supplies, clothing, and subscription service – categories where consumers once again look for value.
Grocery is the only category where Google ranks outside the top 3 (though only 4th). Grocery is also the only category among all 11 with perishable goods. Consumers would rather research in stores than on Google.
Consumers Visit Both Retail Stores And Retail Websites
Consumers are frequently visiting both the store and website to gather information during the research stage.
Retail websites rank as the #1 most visited research source for clothing and subscription services, while stores rank #1 for groceries, home improvement and pet supplies.
Retailer websites like Best Buy, WalMart – in particular the Amazon website – are a rich source of information that provide consumers with product description, customer reviews, product images, and even videos which will eventually help them make an informed decision. At the research stage, they value the ability to discover all available brands and products in a given category.
Consumers especially value brand agnostic retailer websites like Amazon that suggest alternatives allowing them to discover new brands.
The Unrealized Promise Of Social Media And Mobile Apps
Social media and mobile apps lag significantly in frequency of usage compared to other online research sources like Google, retail websites and Amazon. In fact, they are consistently ranked behind even traditional outlets like newspaper, magazines and television.
People use social media as part of their everyday communication ritual to connect with peers. So most product or brand related research on social media platforms is bound to be involuntary i.e. people mostly come across brand posts while browsing their timeline.
When consumers voluntarily search for brands on social media, they might like the brand’s page on Facebook or follow the brand’s account on Twitter. There is very little reason for consumers to return to that Facebook page or interact with that brand on Twitter.
Brands have an opportunity to engage with customers over social media during the research stage by enabling discovery of their products instead of an upfront sales offer.
The top shopping related mobile activity has been price comparison, which comes after the research stage when consumers are trying to narrow down their choices.
Mobile’s potential in helping customers discover new products and brands has not been tapped yet.
The Value Of Trustworthy Information
Consumers search online sites to discover brands and gather information around them. They expect to find useful, accurate, and up-to-date information.
Consumers lose trust in brands if the online information they find is incorrect or misleading.
73% of consumers lose trust in a brand when the online listing of available products shows incorrect information. In other words, the worst mistake a brand could do online is listing products as available when it no longer carries them or marking products as available when they are out of stock.
71% of consumers seek and confirm store or showroom location information before leaving (as opposed to getting the details on their smartphone while on the way, or driving to the area and hoping for the best). They expect the location information to be accurate and up-to-date.
About 2 in 3 claim that they would lose trust in a brand if they got lost walking or driving to a location because of an incorrect address listing.
Winning The Shopper’s Trust With Brand Blogs
During the research stage, consumers attribute a significant amount of influence to brand blogs.
Consumers are actively reading brand blogs. 46% of consumers read blogs of their favorite brands.
Brand blogs are a key part of the consumer’s voluntary research i.e. they look for brand blogs instead of coming across them during research. Consequently, 48% believe it’s important for brands to produce content on their blogs.
Following brand blogs is first and foremost convenient because consumers can access it anywhere and anytime using a laptop, tablet or a smartphone. 40% of consumers prefer reading content directly from a company blog rather than a news magazine or website.
Accessing brand blogs also makes consumers feel a sense of control over the research process because they can make up their own opinions with the information provided.
Whether online or offline, the effectiveness of a research source depends on its credibility. Consumers find brand information credible when it comes directly form the brand. 60% of consumers prefer to see brand related content coming directly from brands.
Consequently, 52% prefer going directly to the company’s website for content about the brand, compared to 25% who prefer going to social media sites and 22% prefer visiting third-party articles.
The customer’s objective during the research stage is to discover as many brands as possible that fulfill the basic needs so that they can decide whether to further consider the brand or remove it from their radar.
Brand blogs should offer useful, credible information that aim to assure consumers that their basic needs will be addressed.