Most UK consumers prefer multi-channel retailers
British consumers are taking a truly multi-channel approach to shopping for non-supermarket goods, using a range of touch points for browsing and purchasing, according to research by database marketing firm GI Insight.
The study found that the majority of consumers prefer to research goods and services online before going to the high street to actually make their purchases. In fact, 72% of consumers prefer to browse and research purchases online, while only 19% of shoppers prefer to vet their potential purchases in-store.
Almost equal proportions of consumers stated a preference for making their non-supermarket purchases on the internet and in-store (46% online and 47% in-store), while a smaller number of consumers still prefer to do their browsing and buying via print catalogues (5% of those who buy online, and 3% of those who buy in-store).
More men prefer to browse and buy online (50% of men, compared with 42% of women). Women therefore showed a greater preference for shopping in the high street than men, with 52% preferring to purchase in-store (compared to 41% of men), and 22% browsing in store (versus 17% of men).
Older consumers also show a marked preference for buying in-store, with 62% of those in the 55-64 age group saying they prefer to buy in a shop and only 33% giving online shopping as their preference. However, this group's web browsing habits were still in line with the average, with 69% saying they still prefer to do their research online before going to the shops.
"These figures clearly indicate that UK consumers see shopping as a multi-channel activity and process," said Andy Wood, managing director for GI Insight. "The most obvious trend here is that consumers often look for and research products online - doing price comparisons and checking product reviews - before going to the high street to buy in-store. But the reverse can also be true and undoubtedly a smaller proportion of shoppers go to the high street to look, feel and try out - or try on - their prospective purchases before going home to buy online."
While the findings suggest that a core of consumers expect companies to be accessible both online and in the high street - and, for some, via catalogue as well - the majority said they would still buy from a brand that does not offer one of the major channels for purchasing. Only 28% said they would not purchase from a firm that failed to offer online shopping, and only 23% said they would refuse to buy from a brand without a high street presence. Only 11% demand that a company should have a printed catalogue.
Consumers with the highest household incomes are most fond of high street brands, with 53% of those in the £100,000-£149,000 household income range and 44% of those in the £150,000+ bracket said they would only buy from a firm with high street presence, compared with just over 20% in lower income groups.
A significant proportion of consumers, however, do expect businesses to offer a range of options for getting in direct contact with the company, with 39% saying they would switch to a competitor if a firm they deal with did not offer choice in this area, and more than 48% saying this would be the case with a company they had not bought from before.
"The majority of consumers clearly don't mind if a brand is only available over one channel for purchasing - underlining the fact that most consumers are flexible enough to switch channels where necessary - but when it comes to getting in touch with a company for general information, taking up an offer, help, service, problems, complaints or other types of communication, a sizable proportion do want a choice of channel," concluded Woods. "Brands can no longer view their businesses as stand-alone web or bricks-and-mortar operations, each having separate customers, because that is not how consumers view them. In these situations, customers expect the brand to be accessible through their preferred channel."