U.S. Consumers Increasingly Going Online And Calling Stores To Research Product, Availability And Price, Accenture Survey Finds

As online research becomes integral part of shopping experience, customer service is even more vital

NEW YORK, April 4, 2007 – An Accenture survey of more than 600 U.S. consumers has found that the majority of consumers use the Internet as part of the shopping process even if they go to stores to purchase or pick up items. The data suggest that retailers and consumer goods companies need to focus on customer service and information available both from call centers and online or risk losing customers researching potential purchases.

While two-thirds (67 percent) of survey respondents said they prefer to make purchases in physical stores respondents also said they research product features online (69 percent), compare prices online before shopping in a physical store (68 percent) or use the Internet to locate items online before going to a store to purchase (58 percent). Only 13 percent of respondents said the Internet has not improved their in-store shopping experience.

“Instead of replacing bricks and mortar stores, the Internet is an extension of consumers’ in-store shopping experience providing a resource to research product and price,” said Jeff Smith, global managing director of Accenture’s Retail practice. “Retailers and manufacturers must understand this consumer behavior trend in order to reach shoppers, educate them, serve them and earn their loyalty.”

Awareness and loyalty

When asked to identify the most powerful influencers of their purchase decisions, the greatest number of respondents – 60 percent – said word-of-mouth, followed by advertising (47 percent) and online information (43 percent) are the most influential. The top three ways consumers said they learn about new products are television (64 percent), word of mouth (47 percent) and print ads (37 percent).

Half (50 percent) of consumers surveyed said they value special promotions to retain their business while 37 percent said they look for improved customer service. Promotions for frequent customers appear to be more effective for women than for men with 54 percent of female respondents saying they value these promotions compared to 47 percent of males surveyed.

Timing seems to be a bigger influence than promotions for new product purchases of both health and beauty items. For example, 33 percent of respondents said they bought a new health or beauty product because they needed it at the time compared with only 22 percent who said they bought such a product because they had a coupon or found the product on sale.

“It’s critical to understand customers’ wants and needs before, during and after the actual purchase,” said Keith Barringer, global managing director of Accenture’s Consumer Goods & Services practice. “Increasing insight into the customer – and acting on it – can help manufacturers successfully time new product launches and help retailers know when to offer promotions to increase revenue and customer loyalty.”

The majority (55 percent) of respondents said new products are introduced before they realize a need for them while nearly half (47 percent) said that new products are introduced that they don’t feel they need. Almost one-third (30 percent) of respondents said they could think of new products they need that have not been developed yet.

“This research shows there are significant opportunities for manufacturers to improve their innovation and product development processes,” added Barringer.

Service and selection

The survey findings indicate that consumers want better service and product selection both online and in the store. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents reported that, when shopping in physical stores, they often find too few registers are open and more than half (54 percent) say there are not enough sales people available. Many respondents said they will go elsewhere if they don’t find the appropriate selection at a certain store; this is particularly true for items such as footwear (81 percent); music, movies and books (78 percent); and jeans (76 percent).

“Consumers are telling us that there is a need for more efficient customer service departments,” said Smith. “The phone, and increasingly a company’s web site, are the first points of entry. If the on-hold time is too long, if the customer is passed around to different departments or if online navigation is confusing the sale can easily be lost. Customer service can be a powerful – and profitable – differentiator for retailers that know what their customers want and how to deliver it.”

Only 50 percent of respondents report getting help always or most of the time for electronics stores and household furnishings with 47 percent saying the same for specialty stores. According to 43 percent of respondents, mass retailers provide help some of the time but 29 percent report the mass stores rarely or never have help available when needed.

The survey also found:

Products improve efficiency. The majority of respondents (56 percent) believe they are more efficient today compared to two years ago as a result of new products.

Cleanliness counts. Store organization is important to 61 percent of respondents and cleanliness was mentioned by 58 percent as key to providing the best in-store experience.

Location is not shoppers’ main concern. Consumers say price and product selection matter more than store location when shopping. The key criteria respondents cited for deciding where to shop are price (85 percent), and product selection (69 percent) followed by store proximity (57 percent).

Gender differences. More men than women (51 percent vs. 39 percent) report the Internet has improved the in-store shopping experience by allowing them to order items online for in-store pick-up. More men than women (17 percent vs. 9 percent) purchase in-store to get better prices while more women than men (16 percent vs. 8 percent) purchase in-store to avoid shipping charges.

Accenture Customer Innovation Network

This research is the first in a series Accenture plans to conduct in the U.K., Germany, Brazil, Mexico, China, Japan and India. The research series is sponsored by Accenture’s Retail and Consumer Goods & Services practices along with the Accenture Customer Innovation Network. Clients can visit Centers in Dusseldorf, Germany, Milan and Chicago. A fourth Center will open in Shanghai, China in 2007.

Survey methodology

The Web-based survey of 602 U.S. consumers age 18 and older was fielded in January 2007.

About Accenture

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Committed to delivering innovation, Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills, and technologies to help clients improve their performance. With more than 152,000 people in 49 countries, the company generated net revenues of US$16.65 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2006. Its home page is www.accenture.com.

Caitlin Storhaug

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