New research once again proves the influence of the internet on both online and offline sales. A study has shown that 77% of electronics purchases are researched online before customers head to a store.

The results of the US-focused study indicates that online research time increases in line with product prices.

The Consumer Electronics Association and Yahoo study looked at five types of consumer electronics products: cell phones, computers, digital cameras, mp3 players and televisions.

Search engines drive offline sales

Of the $32 billion spent on the electronics devices that were measured in the survey, online research was found to have influenced $25 billion of offline sales (77% of overall purchases). 

It is somewhat astonishing that more than three quarters of consumer electronics sales occur offline, when consumers used the internet to research and compare products.

So why do they use the internet in this way? Some 73% of respondents said comparing prices online was easier than offline, while 64% preferred to research online because they have fast access to a wider range of products.

Yet most of these consumers will visit the high street to buy the goods. The underlying reasons for this are likely to be related to trust, security, brand loyalty, delivery hassles / costs, want-it-now, plus the touch/feel aspects of making an expensive purchase.

Higher prices / lower frequency of purchase = more research

The survey found that consumers spent more time searching for televisions – 15 hours on average - while restricting mobile phone research to an average of nine hours.

The immediate observation here is that the greater the cost, the greater the time spent on research.

But there are other reasons. It could also be related to frequency of purchase. You may change your mobile phone every year or so, while a TV’s lifespan should last for a number of years. 

I last bought a widescreen TV five years ago, so it follows that today I’d need to find out a lot more about how the technology has changed. On the other hand, I pretty much know what I want from a mobile phone.

Searchers are more informed, more brand aware

The study also highlighted some interesting differences between ‘searchers’ and ‘non-searchers’. Searchers were those consumers who specifically used search engines (or shopping comparison engines) to aid their research.

This group were found to be more informed about the products they were buying than other consumers. They are also more likely to advocate brands to friends and family.

Searchers also consider more brands when purchasing and are more than twice as likely to consider online display advertising during the research cycle, for electronics purchases.

CEA market research director Tim Herbert points out that consumers take information from a variety of media sources before buying:

“Today’s information-hungry consumers turn to multiple sources. Traditional sources of information are still leveraged by purchasers in the shopping process. These include print and television ads, word-of-mouth and the in-store experience.”

“The average consumer uses six different sources to guide their decision. Getting the right mix of sources is critical to a manufacturer’s success” 

Great study. Multichannel retailers must be very pleased by these results. It would be good to see more data for the UK and Europe, and across other sectors.