Stores vs. Web Sites: The Battle Continues

While Internet users are multi-channel shoppers, their channel of choice is still the traditional brick-and-mortar store, according to a survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which found that it is imperative for retailers to have a multi-channel presence to reduce the risk of losing customers to multi-channel competitors.

“Online retailers need to capitalize on and support their unique shopping and service competencies, while finding ways to achieve parity with stores on factors related to returns and product pricing and selection,” said Mary Brett Whitfield, Director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers E-Retail Intelligence System®.

A survey of Internet users indicates apparel and electronics purchases at any given retail format are definitely influenced by shopping experiences at other formats. Internet purchases of both clothing and consumer electronics are more likely to be influenced by shopping experiences at other channels than vice-versa.

In the apparel category for example, about half of Internet users surveyed indicate that their recent online purchases were influenced by shopping done at catalogs or stores. At the same time, about one-third of catalog clothing purchasers and one-fourth of store clothing purchasers indicated that their purchases were influenced by experiences they had online.

Similarly, in the consumer electronics category, one-half of online purchasers were influenced by shopping experiences at stores and just over 40 percent of store purchasers were influenced by shopping experiences at online shopping sites. Survey results indicate that Internet users who have purchased clothing or consumer electronics in the past six months concentrated their category spending with stores. In fact, stores garnered more than 70 percent of expenditures in both categories.

In comparison, catalogs captured 11 percent of Internet users’ expenditures on clothing for themselves during the past six months while online retailers secured 10 percent of spending in the category. Internet users generally find shopping online easier than shopping catalogs.

Dollars Spent Offline for Every Dollar Spent Online
Category Q2 2000 Q1 2000 Q4 2000
Home/Garden $3.86 $4.29
Electronics $2.35 $2.37 $2.89
Toys $2.13 $1.50 $1.75
Clothing/Apparel $1.92 $2.53 $2.92
Computer Hardware/
$1.36 $1.09 $1.50
Fitness/Sports Equipment $1.01 $1.60 $2.50
Computer Software $0.80 $0.91 $0.99
Travel Services $0.65 $0.76 $1.01
Health/Beauty $0.56 $0.68 $0.93
Music/Video $0.46 $0.65 $0.83
Books $0.45 $0.60 $0.68
$0.31 $0.43
Source: Harris Interactive

Internet users — and consumers in general — consider several factors in determining what format best suits their needs when shopping for and purchasing a specific product. Survey respondents were asked to identify the best format for shopping for clothing for themselves or consumer electronics for their homes. It is not surprising that for most factors, stores come out on top, or that across the board, Internet users who have never made a purchase of any product online are significantly more likely than online purchasers to rank stores the best. Interestingly, however, online sites fare better than catalogs and receive the highest ratings for several shopping/service factors.

Among all product factors — from charging a fair price for products to carrying related products as well as the right brands, sizes, and styles/colors — stores clearly take the top spot in terms of being the best distribution channel, followed most of the time by online shopping sites and then catalogs. Catalogs receive better recognition than online shopping sites for their selection of sizes and styles/colors. Internet users rank stores the best by a wider margin on factors, although online sites take the top spot for several factors.

“The strongest message that Internet users send out concerning shopping and service factors is that stores overwhelmingly have the edge with regard to ease of returning or exchanging products,” Whitfield said. “In this particular service area, online retailers have plenty of room for improvement.”

Specifically, more than 90 percent of respondents indicate that stores are the best format for facilitating the return/exchange process while only 4 percent of Internet users rank online sites (or catalogs) as the best format for this factor.

Online sites edged stores out as the best format for the following factors: provides the right level of product information for me; easiest for me to find products I want; quickest for me to shop; and most convenient for me to shop.

While the results are much the same with regard to consumer electronics, Internet users most often rate stores as the best format for shopping for home electronics. In fact, the only factor where online sites surpassed stores as the best format was ease of finding products.

The number of browsers (online information gatherers and offline buyers) has remained constant or declined while the number of online buyers has steadily increased, according to Harris Interactive. The Harris data also found that the ratio of online to offline spending is also decreasing over time.

“The online shopping experience has become a more positive experience for most online shoppers,” said Lori Inventosch-James, director of e-commerce research at Harris Interactive. “‘Newbies’ to the Internet usually start with online browsing and eventually graduate to buying books or CDs online. They discover that online buying is not difficult or scary and that it is actually more fun and convenient than going to the mall.”

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