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Study: Consumers Still Rely on Physical Stores to Inform Online Buys

In a new world where fingerprint payment systems and digital wallets are realities, no wonder there’s doubt about whether traditional brick-and-mortars can successfully coexist. But what physical stores may lack in cool factor, they more than make up for in value as perceived by consumers.

Geometry Global’s new study, the Connected Shopper, revealed that while 59 percent of Internet users make one to three online purchases a month, 66 percent of the almost 10,000 shoppers in 12 countries surveyed rely on visits to physical stores to inform those online purchases. The primary reason why most visit a store? To see the product in real life, 88 percent of respondents reported.

Shoppers’ want for product information doesn’t end there. Globally, the survey found that 60 percent of shoppers use their mobile phone or tablet while visiting physical stores mostly to compare prices and look for product information, less so for asking advice or validating their choice by peers. In fact, browsing and shopping account for 19 percent of global online activity, including researching information, comparing prices, looking for promotions and making online purchases.

The report noted that brands and retailers have a significant opportunity to champion platforms for smart shopping, and to leverage smartphones as allies and provide value-added services at the point of sales. In particular, brands should pay closer attention to their websites, as 62 percent of respondents reported they use the official brand website in their research. According to the report, brands have a “clear opportunity to own their narrative online.” The habit of visiting official brand sites for product details is especially prevalent in China, Brazil and Poland, compared to countries like the United States, the U.K., Japan and France, which record low amounts of brand site visits–the reason Geometry Global recommends brands take a country by country approach to information seeding.

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Looking forward, the study’s results indicated that the path to purchase would become more complex as people gather information “repeatedly and fluidly” across online and physical retail channels, and as more (68 percent) people globally “strongly agree” or “agree” that online shopping will represent an increasing share of their total shopping in the future.

The report said that while it is widely accepted that 90 percent of those connected to the Internet have made online purchases, that’s where the generalizations should end. “Digital technology has spawned a vast array of options, and shoppers are using these channels differently depending on where they live, how digitally savvy they are, what categories they are shopping, and many other variables,” the report noted.

And as it was before in the manufacturing and technology sectors, the current state of retail in China could be a preview of what the worldwide digital and physical retail landscape will look like in the future. While China continues to be a hub for retail expansion—mainly for convenient shopping malls—the country’s Internet users make nearly twice as many online purchases per month than the global average of three, thanks in part to a highly evolved digital population and sophisticated shopping portals that offer Chinese consumers high value, flexible payment options and swift delivery.