Shopper Touch Points in Online Pre-Purchase Research

What are the key online touch points where US shoppers research brand and products before buying them?

Data Headlines

  • Online-only retailers (56%) and retailer sites (55%) are the top online destinations for shoppers researching products
  • More than two in five (46%) shoppers visit brand websites during the research phase to collect information
  • In comparison, fewer shoppers visit social media sites (16%) and deal comparison sites (12%) during research phase

Retailer websites are the top online touch points for US shoppers in the research stage. These websites include online-only retailers like Amazon and brick-and-mortar retailer websites like Best Buy. More than half of shoppers visit online-only retailers (56%). A similar proportion (55%) also visit brick-and-mortar retailer websites (55%). Retailer websites have now become a prominent part of a US shopper’s consumer journey.

Online-only and retailer websites provide information on a wide range of products across categories. This makes them ideal venues to research brands and products. They also include product reviews and ratings which help shoppers make decisions. Shoppers can also buy from these websites and have the products delivered. This is not possible with social media and comparison sites. Retailers also run promotions available only when shoppers buy items from their websites. This tends to push shoppers to visit their websites in search for lower prices.

Brand websites focus on one brand or product. They attract a reasonable proportion of shoppers conducting research. More than two in five (46%) shoppers visit brand websites to look for information. These websites provide in-depth information about the product and category lacking in retailer websites. Shoppers who visit brand websites usually have a list of brands they are considering. They visit each brand’s website to know more about the brand and products.

What sources of information do shoppers use to research brands and products?

Data Headlines

  • Online reviews is top research source for Millennials (78%), Generation X (72%), Boomers (62%), and Seniors (69%).
  • More than half of shoppers across all generations also visit retailer websites and brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Generation X (52%) and Millennials (50%) are most likely to depend on word of mouth during research.

Shoppers across generations use online product reviews more than any other source of information.

Millennials (18-34) are the most likely demographic to read online product reviews. More than three in four (78%) Millennials go online to read reviews when researching brands and products. Gen Xers (35-49) follow with more than seven in ten (72%) going online to read reviews during research. Online reviews are also the top research touch point for Boomers (62%) and Seniors (69%).

The prevalence of reviews shows that online media now become the status quo. Shoppers put online reviews ahead of offline touch points.

This does not diminish the importance of offline channels. Around half of all shoppers seek information from brick and mortar stores. This is on par with shoppers visiting retailer websites while researching brands and products.

Among Millennial shoppers, more than one in two visit a physical store (51%). A similar proportion visit retailer websites (57%) during research. The balance between the online and offline touch points continues among older shoppers. More than half of Gen X shoppers visit brick-and-mortar stores (52%). Just over one in two Gen X shoppers visit retailer websites (55%).

Word of mouth is another offline touch point among young shoppers. Millennials (50%) and Generation X-ers (52%) are more likely to seek out word of mouth. In comparison a third of Boomers (33%) and two in five Seniors (40%) turn to word of mouth during research.

Which online touch point do shoppers trust the most?

Data Headlines

  • Online product reviews are the most trusted source of information among shoppers young (85%) and old (66%).
  • Young shoppers (66%) are more likely to trust information on company or manufacturer sites than older shoppers (44%).
  • Shoppers trust online communities (65%-young, 44%-old) more than social networks (53%-young, 29%-old).
  • Young shoppers are more likely to trust people they follow online (57%) compared to older shoppers (31%).

Shoppers trust online sites with product reviews more than any other online touchpoint. More than four in five young shoppers (85%) 16-39 year old trust sites with consumer reviews. Two in three older shippers 40-70 year olds trust the same.

Online reviews from other customers add authenticity that shoppers rely on. Shoppers have also become aware of how to find and read reviews to weed out the fake ones. Reading reviews has become an important ritual of the pre-purchase research process. Products that lack reviews and ratings, at times, don’t even get considered. This makes it imperative for brands to encourage customers to post online reviews.

Brands do not have control over the volume and sentiment of online reviews. But, they have control over their own website – an important online touch point. Two in three (66%) young shoppers trust information on brand owned websites. More than two in five (44%) older shoppers trust the same. Shoppers can turn to brand websites at various points during research. At the beginning when they come across the brand wither through an ad, word of mouth, or online search. Or once they have a list of brands they are considering to get more information. Brands need to ensure that they have all relevant information in an easy to find and consume format. This applies to website interactions on desktops, tablets and smartphones.

Online communities and social networks are two other touch points brands can prioritise. Young shoppers are more likely to trust online communities (65%) and social media (53%). In comparison, less than half of older shoppers trust online communities (44%). And fewer trust social media (29%).

Online communities has content from strangers, while social media from people we know. But younger shoppers trust online communities more than social media. Online communities have been around longer than social networks. Consumers using online communities might know more about navigating content to find relevant information. Online communities also allow members to post content under anonymity. Members are more likely to not hold back on how they feel about products and brands. This gives shoppers the confidence to trust in the content. When using social media people expect personal content instead of information to help buy.

How do shoppers use online search during pre-purchase product research?

Data Headlines

  • Search engines are the most used search feature at discovery (71%), consideration (74%), and post-purchase (51%).
  • Two in three shoppers use search on retailer sites at discovery (64%) and consideration (65%) stages of the journey.
  • Shoppers are least likely to use search on social networks during all three stages of the consumer journey.

Online search is a key digital touch point during a shopper’s journey. Shoppers can now search the web in three different ways. They can use search engines like Google and Bing to look up brands and categories. They can use the search function within retailer websites like Amazon and Walmart. This would return product information as well as reviews. They can also search within social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These search results return public opinion on brands and products.

Among the three search tools, search engines are most used to look up information. Shoppers use search engines throughout the path-to-purchase. And even in the post-purchase stage.

More than seven in ten shoppers use search engines during discovery (71%). A similar proportion use it during consideration (74%). At the discovery stage, shoppers look for what brands are available. There is in-depth online and offline research during the consideration stage. Search engines like Google and Bing help shoppers find relevant information at both stages.

Shoppers continue to use search after buying a product. More than one in two shoppers (51%) use search engines in the post-purchase stage. At this stage, shoppers are looking for information on returning a product or using a product. They could also be making a complaint or leaving a review.

Retailer websites are one of the more common places where shoppers leave reviews post-purchase. More than two in five (45%) shoppers conduct a search on retailer website post-purchase. Shoppers also conduct searches on retailer websites during discovery (64%) and consideration (65%). Retailer websites provide detailed product information along with customer reviews. Many like Amazon now even have a Q&A section where shoppers can ask questions. These questions get replies from other buyers or brands themselves.

Searching on social media sites is not a common behavior among US shoppers. One in five shoppers (20%) search on social media during discovery stage. The figures drops to 14% in the consideration stage. And further to 13% in the post-purchase stage.

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