Consumers Search Before Buying Online

Roughly half of online shoppers conduct research on a search engine before making an online purchase, according to a study performed by DoubleClick in conjunction with comScore Networks.

The study, “Search Before the Purchase,” analyzes prepurchase search activity across four categories: apparel; computer hardware; sports and fitness; and travel, based on comScore’s panel of 1.5 million U.S. Internet users.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the study finds most users complete product-related searches weeks ahead of their actual purchases, with a greater reliance on general searches than is usually presumed by marketers, said Stuart Larkins, VP of partner services at Performics, a DoubleClick division.

Majority of Buyers Searches and Clicks are on Generic Terms
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“A number of clients see a high ROI [return on investment] from branded terms and think that’s almost exclusively where they should put their focus,” Larkins said. “This study shows the opportunity posed by generic terms to influence potential buyers much earlier in the buying cycle.”

According to the report, approximately 77 percent of keyword searches conducted by buyers across all four categories are generic, compared to 23 percent that are brand-only or a branded word plus another item.

Many online marketers measure search marketing campaign effectiveness based on clicks that lead to a purchase in the same session or within a few days of purchase. However, the study finds most buyers complete their relevant search activity well in advance of the online purchase. In the travel category, 64.7 percent of buyers’ final searches occurred at least two weeks before the purchase; 21.6 percent searched a week or more before buying; and 23.8 percent bought during the same session.

The study also finds buying decisions are generally spread out over a number of searches that vary by product category. Buyers on sports/fitness sites conducted 2.5 searches in the 12 weeks preceding a purchase. Apparel buyers made an average 4.7 searches beforehand. Computer hardware buyers conducted 4.9 searches, and travel buyers conducted 6 relevant searches in the 12 weeks before purchase.

Overall, the findings challenge popular presumptions that brand-related search queries conducted within a few days of a purchase most directly lead to the online sale. As a result, DoubleClick says it plans to encourage clients to invest more heavily in generic search terms and to do so earlier in the online buying cycle, Larkins said.

He predicts emphasis on generic search terms early in the cycle will lead to an increase in conversions that otherwise might seem generated by a branded search in a shorter timeframe.

“If marketers increase their investment in targeted generic terms, the number of conversions they consequently measure on branded terms should increase if the conclusions of this report are correct,” Larkins said.

The report substantiates findings of a study commissioned by Overture and conducted by comScore in December. It focuses on the buying activity of Internet users conducting consumer electronics or computer searches on the top 25 search engines. The study finds the average buying cycle is often over one month, with 85 percent of the conversions categorized as “latent,” or not resulting from a single direct search session.

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