Retail study suggests consumers research online but make big purchases in store

Customers prefer to mix technology and in-store visits for major purchases according to a new report by Forbes Insights and Synchrony Financial,  

The “A Split Screen: Online Information and a Human Touch” report—which analyzes how retailers feel about their customers’ shopping attitudes and preferences—discusses retailers’ readiness for the omnichannel shopping environment. The white paper looks at ways to increase competitive advantage and is based on a Forbes Insights/Synchrony Financial survey of 250 retailers representing major sectors of big-purchase retailing.  Retailers indicate that customers like to browse the Internet to research major products, but when it comes to making an actual purchase, they prefer to do it in person, in the store, according to almost half of retailers (46%). More than a third say that customers research and buy online.  Just 18% say customers do both in the store.

“Customers do their homework for major purchases, and that’s easiest online,” said Bruce Rogers, Chief Insights Officer and head of the CMO Practice at Forbes Media. “But when it comes to the actual purchase, they like to do it in person.”

“A major purchase is a commitment for many consumers.  Having that personable and knowledgeable sales associate is important.  Successful retailers bridge the online to in-store engagement, creating a frictionless experience,” stated Toni White, CMO of Synchrony Financial.

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Most retailers surveyed (83%) are positive about the economy and customers’ spending power for the next two years. At the same time, customers have become more responsible about making major purchases than they were two years ago, according to 28% of retailers. Thirty-six percent of retailers say they think customers are more open this year to making a major purchase. Home improvement retailers are the most optimistic, with 40% of them saying they expect more major purchases.

Almost half of survey respondents (45%) consider closing the sale for a major purchase online as a challenge. There are several reasons for this, some connected to the availability of financing online. Moreover, 84% of retailers say that customer financing is important to them, citing increased customer spend or loyalty. In fact, 40% say it is “more true this year than last year” that their customers will be likely to use financing to make their major purchase.

While 73% of retailers say omnichannel is important to them, only 38% say they are past the beginning stages of their omnichannel journey.  Automotive parts retailers are the least advanced, with 17% past the beginning stages; and outdoor and sports equipment retailers are the most advanced, with 66% either midway or fully omnichannel.

According to retailers, most customers—82%—conduct research online. A third of survey respondents believe that their website draws customers to the stores. But this does not eliminate the need for sales associates who can act as experts. In fact, friendly and helpful associates are the biggest reason for in-store visits (cited by 38% of respondents).

This report is based on a survey of 250 retail executives, with almost half being CEOs or business owners. They came from companies with sales of at least $100 million. Sixty-four percent had revenues of more than $500 million, and 19% had sales of more than $10 billion. They represented all major sectors of big-purchase retailing, including appliances and electronics, automotive, home furnishings, and outdoor and sports equipment.

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