High streets the perfect online showroom

New research from UK database and loyalty marketing specialist GI Insight shows the customer journey – from first marketing contact to final purchase – does not usually take place over one channel alone.

In fact, the vast majority of UK consumers are instead taking a multi-channel approach to buying.

The survey also shows that while UK consumers tend to purchase from their favourite brands both online and in-store, their buying habits are also affected by the type of product they are intending to purchase.

The research, which takes in the responses of more than 1000 UK consumers, reveals that when it comes to their favourite retailers, 63 per cent of respondents say they purchase from both the brand’s website and its high street stores, confirming that UK consumers are not wedded to a single purchasing channel when it comes to the companies they prefer and buy from most.

The aim of the survey, conducted by MindMetre Research, was to analyse the trends of shoppers nearing the end of their customer journey. The sample was representative of the UK by age, income level, social class, and region.

The survey shows that many shoppers use physical stores as, in effect, showrooms for examining and trying out many products before actually buying – even if they intend to make the ultimate purchase online. In particular, 73 per cent of UK consumers prefer to examine and test bulky items such as bicycles, playpens, garden tools and furniture in-store first, even when they go a website to make the final purchase.

Similarly, 69 per cent of consumers like to try on style products including fashion accessories, clothes, shoes and sunglasses in store, and 60 per cent prefer to look at and try out electronic products such as DVD players, computers, and TVs in the shop before they buy – although many of the actual purchases may in fact be made later online.

But for other types of products, consumers give the high street a complete miss, preferring to simply make a quick order online – especially for standardised items that are exactly the same regardless of the retail outlet and require little sizing up or examination. The survey showed that when it comes to uniform products like CDs, DVDs, light bulbs or kitchen utensils, 68 per cent of UK consumers say they prefer to buy such items directly online.

The research also shows no really significant preference by UK consumers in responding to promotions: 54 per cent preferring to redeem loyalty vouchers in-store compared to 46 per cent online.

Andy Wood, MD of GI Insight, said the research shows there is logic to consumer behaviour across multiple channels.

“Understanding this on an individual level can be crucial to managing customers and getting them to remain loyal, buy more with each transaction, and purchase more frequently.

“Gaining insight into how customers buy different products through different channels, or use multiple channels in combination as they come to a purchasing decision, enables a brand to tailor the message and the offer for the channel which best reflects the product and the consumer’s preferences,” said Wood.

“Key to this is applying the customer data an organisation has to hand – such as transaction details and information supplied on web forms – and analysing it to see what trends and behaviour best categorise that client. Such information can be used to improve the segmentation and personalisation of individual messages to best reflect this, ultimately boosting return on marketing investment and profitability.”

Wood also noted: “The figures indicate that when it comes to promotional activities, retailers should not presume their customers want to redeem points through the same channel as they were gained. Companies intending to fuel activity with reward bonuses and special discounts must be aware that consumers tend to buy both online and in-store from their favourite retailers – the ones they are most likely to hold loyalty cards for – and thus rewards should not be channel-exclusive.

“Indeed, since we see that consumers are multi-channel shoppers, no benefit can be gained in trying to tie them down to a particular virtual or physical location.”

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