Online Searches Lead to Offline Purchases

Consumers thinking about buying a computer or electronic product obviously are not making snap decisions; they like to have time to think. That rather intuitive conclusion is confirmed by a comScore Networks (Reston, VA) study revealing the impact of search engine usage on the online and offline buying process. The study, sponsored by the Overture division of Yahoo!, analyzed the timing of search engine usage and the role of different search term categories in the shopping process among consumers searching for electronics and computer products.

Internet users who conducted a consumer electronics or computer (CE/C) search at one of the top 25 search engines in Q1 2004 were the focus of the comScore research, which tracked online buying behavior for 90 days following a CE/C search. While 25% of searchers ultimately purchased a CE/C product, an estimated 92% of these purchases occurred offline. And, among the 8% of post-search purchases that were made online, the vast majority occurred in subsequent user sessions (not directly after a search click-through).

Among the other findings:

* Generic search terms (such as “plasma TV”) accounted for 70% of consumer electronics and computers search volume and 60% of search-to-purchase conversion

* Branded terms (either retailer trademarks or product-specific terms) accounted for 30% of search volume, but 40% of purchase conversion

* Searches for consumer electronics, such as DVD players, TVs and cameras, were more likely to result in an offline purchase than were searches for desktop and laptop computers.

* Only 15% of online purchases following a CE/C search occurred in the same user session as the search itself, with 85% of conversions occurring in a latent (or non-search) session.

* Nearly 40% of all purchases occurred 5 to 12 weeks after the initial CE/C search was conducted.

* While generic terms accounted for the majority of purchase conversion (61%), branded terms (either retailer or product terms) were approximately 30% more likely to result in an online purchase.

According to comScore, the study results challenge a widely held belief that most consumers begin the product search process by using a generic search term (e.g. “plasma TV”) and then later refine their search activity to product-specific terms (e.g. “Sony Plasma KE-42M1”). The comScore research found that while 85% of searchers do indeed conduct additional CE/C searches later in the shopping process, the majority of consumers continue to use the same search term type (either generic or branded) with which they began the search process. And since 83% of consumers start their search process with a generic term and only a relatively small percentage later search using a product-specific term, retailers or manufacturers that invest solely in product-specific keywords will miss more than 80% of CE/C searchers, concludes comScore.

For more information on this study, visit www.comscore.com. Pasadena-based Overture Services Inc. offers marketing services for companies doing business online. For more information about Overture, visit www.overture.com.

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