Online Pre-Purchase Research among US shoppers

What is the demographic profile of shoppers who go online to research products?

Data Headlines

  • More than half (53.6%) of online shoppers who research digitally are men.
  • Shoppers 45 and above account for more than half (56.2%) of digital product researchers.
  • Tendency to research products online is highest among households with annual income between $50K-$99K.

Men account for a higher proportion of shoppers who research online before buying products. Just over half (53.6%) of male shoppers research online. In comparison, 46.4% of women shoppers go online to research products before buying them.

Millennials and Generation Xers have a greater tendency to research products online. But, Boomers and Seniors account for more than half (53.6%) of all digital researchers. More than three in ten (31.6%) shoppers who conduct online research are 45 to 59 years old. Almost a quarter (24.6%) are 60 years or older.

Higher income households are more likely to research products online before buying them. More than a third (33.2%) of households earning $50K to $99K research product online. Just under three in ten (29%) households earning $100K or more research products online.

What is the impact of household income and ethnicity on US shopper’s pre-purchase research behaviour?

Data Headlines

  • Households earning $75K+ a year are more likely to research products online (82%) compared to those earning less than $75K (72%)
  • Households earning $250K+ a year more most likely to research products on their smartphones (14%) and tablets (14%)
  • Households earning less than $75K a year are most likely to research (21%) and purchase (50%) products in-person at a store
  • Households earning $250K or more in a year are most likely to purchase products online (56%)
  • Research just before purchase is common among different ethnicities – Asian (48%), Black (48%), Hispanic (54%), and White (46%)

How long do shoppers research brands and products before making a purchase?

Data Headlines

  • US shoppers spend on average 68 days researching big ticket items before making a final purchase
  • Shoppers spend the longest researching home improvement (97 days), mattresses (96 days), and jewellery (93 days)
  • Research for consumer electronics and home appliances lasts 54 days and 53 days respectively
  • Nearly one in four shoppers buy small ticket products the same day they research it online
  • Nearly one in three shoppers research small ticket products after purchase

Shoppers spend 10 weeks researching big ticket items

A vast amount of online information means shoppers can spend months researching products. This is especially true for big ticket items like appliances and home improvement products. US shoppers spend 68 days on average researching big ticket purchases of $500 or more.

US shoppers spend the longest researching home improvement products (97 days). Mattresses (96 days) and jewellery (93 days) follow next. Shoppers also spend months researching flooring (90 days) and furniture (85 days). All these home related categories are items shoppers invest in for the long term. It is only natural to spend a long time ensuring they make the right decision. Shoppers are likely to use both online and offline channels for product research.

Pre-purchase research for consumer electronics tend to last on average 54 days. Consumer electronics include products ranging from smartphones to TV. Consumer electronic products today are advanced. Shoppers want to make sure they buy the most recent gadget that adds value to their everyday life. Online comparison and review sites provide enough information to keep shoppers busy with research.

Research time for home appliances (53 days) is on par with consumer electronics. The category includes items such as refrigerators, microwaves, and air conditioners. Shoppers expect to shop for these durables once in a while. Reliability is a key factor in the decision to buy. Shoppers conduct thorough research to make sure they buy the most reliable product available. While online is rich with information, shoppers will also look for expertise offline. Store personnel providing personalized advice on the right choice are key research touchpoints.

Shoppers spend a week or less researching small ticket items

Online research for small ticket items occur over shorter time periods. Small ticket items cost less than $100. Less than one in ten (7%) shoppers research small ticket items more that 30 days before the moment they buy. Small ticket items include groceries, apparel, and entertainment related expenses among others.

Almost half (45%) of all shoppers research online for a week or less before buying an item. Close to one in four (24%) shoppers research items the same day they buy it. This is common when making a decision about which restaurant to visit or what movie to watch. Social entertainment activities get decided in a short time frame. Online apps and websites are key in helping consumers make appropriate choices. Research for grocery items tends to last even less time. Most shoppers know what brands and products they want in their weekly grocery. Research happens around looking for discounts and promotions.

More than one in five (21%) shoppers spend up to a week researching small ticket products. Apparel and accessories are popular small ticket items where research can last from a day to a week. Shoppers might have an idea of what they want but are happy to browse to find items that match the latest trend.

Shoppers also continue to research brands and products post-purchase. Almost one in three (32%) shoppers go online to research products post-purchase. Over one in ten (13%) research for up to one week after the moment they buy items. Shoppers continue research if it is possible to return the products they’ve bought. They might want to return the items on finding a better product. Post-purchase research could make shoppers realise the product does not meet their needs. This could also motivate them to return items.

How does product research and discovery differ by size and price?

Data Headlines

  • Shoppers of large size, low cost products are most likely to research via search engines (35.8%).
  • However, they discover the product they purchase through in-store displays (47.7%)
  • In store displays are key for large size, high cost products in terms of research (40.2%) and discover (32.6%)
  • Small size, high cost items rely most heavily on online channels for research and discovery

Price and size play key roles in how shoppers research and discover products.

Shoppers research large size products while browsing in-store displays when the cost is high. Two in five (40.2%) research large size, high cost products via in-store displays. These include products such as refrigerators, home appliances and furnishings among others. Less than one in five (14.5%) use in-store displays to research large size, low cost products. More than one in three (35.8%) shoppers research such items on search engines.

Research via in-store displays, is also common when the product is small size. Almost half (45%) of shoppers research small size, high cost products via in-store displays. More than a third (35.9%) use store displays to research small size, low cost products.

But in-store displays help shoppers discover the right large size, low cost items. Almost half (47.7%) discover large size, low cost products they buy via in-store displays. Just under a third (32.6%) discover large size, high cost products via in-store displays.

It is more convenient to look for large size products in stores. Shoppers can get an idea of the product’s dimensions. They can also touch and feel it. Shoppers need not worry about getting the product home. They can place an online order or request delivery services to get the product home.

This does not mean that shoppers do not go online for research and discovery. Shoppers use online channels in research and discovery of small size, high cost products. These channels include brand websites, third party retailer sites, search engines, and online reviews.

Shoppers research and discover small size, high cost items on brand websites the most. More than one in three (33.8%) shoppers visit brand websites to research such items. Almost two in five (38.5%) shoppers discover them on brand websites. Personal gadgets like smartphones and smartwatches are examples of small size, high cost products. Shoppers looking to buy electronic devices visit Apple and Samsung websites to research products.

Almost one in four (24.7%) research small size, high cost items on third party retailer sites. And more than one in three (34.3%) discover the ones they buy on such sites. Amazon and eBay are prominent examples of third party retailers. Accessories and beauty products qualify as small size, high cost items. Shoppers search for these items by keyword and category within retailer sites. It gives them a better idea of product range under each brand. This is common behaviour among shoppers in the mid research stage.

Search engines are also popular destination for shoppers of small size, high cost items. More than one in four (28.6%) research them via search engines e.g. Google. Almost a quarter (24.7%) discover small size, high cost products through search engines. Search engines help shoppers cast a wider net compared to brand and retailer sites. As such, shoppers are most likely to use search engines at the beginning of the research process. It helps them get a better understanding of what products and brands are available to begin with.

Shoppers researching high cost products turn to online reviews. Almost a quarter (23.6%) research small size, high cost products through online reviews. Over one in five (21%) discover them through online reviews. More than one in five (22.5%) research large size, high cost products via online reviews. While 17.7% discover them through online reviews. Trustworthy online reviews help shoppers lower the risk of a ‘bad’ decision. This is important as they are willing to pay a premium price.

How does primary online research channel differ by age among US shoppers?

Data Headlines

  • More than two in three (67%) Millennials prefer to research products digitally vs in-store.
  • Just over half (56%) of Generation X shoppers say digital is their primary channel of product research.
  • Baby Boomers (41%) and Seniors (28%) are less likely to prefer digital compared to in-store for product research.

Shoppers research products both online and offline. When asked to pick one over the other, choices vary across generations.

18 to 34 year old Millennial shoppers are the most likely to research products online. More than two-thirds (67%) of Millennial shoppers pick digital over in-store. Millennials are most tech savvy generation. A higher usage of mobile apps also contributes to their preference of digital research.

Generation Xers are also more likely to prefer digital channels for shopping research. More than half (56%) of 35 to 49 year olds say digital is their primary channel of research for shopping.

Millennial shoppers researching online tend to explore and discover new products. In comparison, Generation Xers are more likely to be pragmatic with their online research. Gen X shoppers tend to look for discounts, reviews and delivery options.

Affinity to digital product research is low among Baby Boomers and Seniors in the US. More than half of Baby Boomers (59%) prefer researching products in-store. Among Seniors this figure increases to more than seven in ten (72%).


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