Study: Consumers Avoiding In-Store Assistance

People strongly prefer to do their own research online instead of speaking to a sales associate at a store, according to the 2010 Social Shopping Study from the e-tailing group and PowerReviews.

Study respondents say they like online research better for three reasons: 1) its ability to save time, 2) boost confidence and 3) provide credible information.

The research also found online research remains key to consumer shopping behavior, with 50 percent of respondents saying they conduct research online for at least half of their purchases, versus 54 percent in the 2007 Social Shopping Study. The study does not, however, indicate if consumers prefer online research over in-store assistance when shopping for plants or at a garden center.

When asked where they’re doing their online research, the majority (57 percent) of survey respondents said they begin with a search engine. The top three places consumers go when researching product information online were retailer sites (65 percent), brand sites (58 percent) and Amazon.com (33 percent). Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter attracted just 6 percent of shoppers engaged in online product research.

Sixty-four percent of shoppers consistently read reviews always or most of the time before deciding to purchase an item, a number the same as the 65 percent answering the same way in 2007. Although usage remains steady, the study did uncover some changes in the ways consumers use and react to reviews. For instance, consumers now spend more time reading reviews before making purchasing decisions, with 64 percent taking 10 minutes or more, vs. 50 percent in 2007, and 33 percent taking a half-hour or more, compared with 18 percent in 2007.

Shoppers also read more customer reviews to be confident in judging a product: 39 percent read eight or more reviews, versus 22 percent in 2007 and 12 percent read 16 or more reviews, as opposed to 5 percent in 2007.

“The findings of the 2010 Social Shopping Survey validate what we are hearing from retailers and brands – that customer reviews have become a critical piece of the marketing puzzle, based not only on consumer demand but also on the sales they deliver,” says Pehr Luedtke, CEO of San Francisco-based PowerReviews. “The next step for retailers is to now find new ways to maximize the impact and reach of these reviews-such as optimizing them for search engines.”

In-store advice from store personnel is, obviously, still a huge draw for independent garden center retailers. The retailers who position themselves as the experts draw customers, in some cases, specifically seeking expertise.

This study, however, should remind retailers customers are becoming more diverse in their needs. And some may require online product reviews or additional information elsewhere in addition to the in-person customer service independent retailers provide.

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