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Survey: Majority of Consumers’ Offline Buys Affected by the Internet

Last year Forrester Research predicted that in 2020, “42% of in-store sales [will] be influenced by the Internet during the customer’s purchase journey.” Consulting firm Deloitte makes a bolder statement: 64 cents of every dollar from in-store sales was influenced by the internet in 2015.

Of the two, the Deloitte number is probably much closer to the truth.

Americans spent roughly $4.8 trillion last year on retail purchases, according to the US Census Bureau. Of that about 7.2% was e-commerce spending and a little over 92% was offline spending. There are trillions more dollars spent on services.

Deloitte says that about $2.2 trillion in retail spending was impacted in one way or another by the internet in 2015. (The numbers don’t entirely line up in the Deloitte and US government figures.) There are about 260 million internet users in the US according to comScore. It’s pretty clear that a majority of those internet users are consulting or being influenced by the internet before buying offline (products, services, entertainment, travel). That’s also reflected in numerous surveys about the influence of online reviews on real-world purchases.

To gain another data point, last week I conducted a single-question survey using Google Consumer Surveys to determine how much of their offline shopping people felt was being influenced by the internet. The question was: “How often do you do online/mobile research before buying something in a store or from a service business?

Here are the weighted responses (n=1,001):

  • Every single time — 20.3%
  • 75% of the time — 25.5%
  • About 50% of the time — 17.2%
  • About 25% of the time — 12.7%
  • Not at all — 24.2%

Roughly 63% of respondents said they consulted the internet at least 50% of the time before buying offline. But more striking is the roughly 46% of users conducting online research at least 75% of the time.

Because this is self-reported data it reflects people’s inexact sense of their own shopping behavior. But while the percentages may not be entirely accurate, directionally the data are representative of consumer behavior.

The data also show that women tend to consult the internet somewhat more often than men, before buying offline. Online-to-offline users also skewed slightly older than expected. In the “about 50% of the time” category, 18 – 24 was the leading age group. However in the other categories, older groups were more active. For example, the “about 75% of the time” category was lead by the 45 – 54 age cohort.

The degree of internet research or influence (extending to mobile) in any given category will vary — cars and contractors vs. shoes or dinner reservations. But most product and service categories involving any degree of consideration will be affected by the internet and online marketing or content.

What does this mean in terms of actual spending?

It’s difficult to make an estimate off consumer survey data like this. However I think it’s very safe to assert that at least 50% of offline retail spending and a comparably high percentage of services spending are touched at some point by the internet along the consumer path to purchase.

The aggressive Deloitte number might be more of a floor than a ceiling.

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