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Online consumers spend many days "screen shopping"

May 13, 2005

ScanAlert just published a new Internet shopping study that surveyed more than eight million online consumers. The report shows that shoppers often spend many days digitally "window shopping" before making their intended purchase.

The survey may surprise many e-commerce entrepreneurs and observers, as impulse buying was believed to be a primary factor behind the popularity and success of online shopping.

According to the report, the average time delay between a consumer's first visit to a Web site and their first purchase was just over 19 hours, with over 20 percent of shoppers delaying their buy decision for more than three days.

Napa, CA-based Scan Alert is a site security certification company. About one-third (35 percent) of shoppers took more than 12 hours to make a buy decision. Twenty-one percent took more than three days, with 14 percent of these "cautious shoppers" taking more than one week to decide where to buy.

The extent to which digital window shopping has become commonplace is clearly revealed by data tracking the buying behavior of more than 8 million online shoppers who visited 140 Web sites between June 2004 and March 2005. Participating retailers included GSI Commerce, Ritz Camera, and Tiger Direct. The behavior was recorded during individual A/B split tests sites ran to evaluate ScanAlert's HACKER SAFE certification mark affect on sales conversion rates.

"Consumers abandon shopping carts with an ease that frustrates and often confuses online retailers," said report author Ken Leonard, CEO, ScanAlert. "Retailers must understand, however, that almost half of all online purchases are from shoppers who leave a site after the first visit, and return even days later to buy."

The Web is a "catalog of catalogs." Today's online shoppers typically visit multiple sites, loading items into shopping carts as a convenient way to compare total costs, including shipping charges. The return-to-buy decision seems to be based on two general categories: price/availability and safety/trust.

The length of time from initial visit to actual purchase measured during the tests shows that consumers do a great deal of evaluation in these categories before deciding where to buy. The delay varied from site to site depending on customer demographics, brand recognition, the number of competitors online, and average product price.

For example, 50 percent of online customers take more than one hour to make a purchase, while 35 percent take more than 12 hours to make a buying decision.

ScanAlert says its findings regarding shopping behavior point to both motivators and barriers to online shopping. The findings clearly indicate that for those who comparison shop the most, trust factors can act as strong motivators when present. Conversely, they can also be strong barriers when absent. Contrary to the popular notion, these factors can be the deciding factor for a large portion of shoppers.

Two key recommendations for converting shoppers into buyers, according to ScanAlert are: creating a comfort zone for comparison shoppers, and moving the focus from shopping cart abandonment to site abandonment.

Site designers also need to make the shopping experience more informative, and the sense of safety more "memorable," in order to influence those who "abandon" their carts not to completely abandon the site later when it comes to deciding where to buy.

"Shopping cart abandonment is simply the act of moving on to the next comparison," Leonard added. "Carts must therefore become convenient shopping tools encouraging shoppers to return and buy. Saved search functionality, where returning purchasers can easily pick up where they left off, is critical to saving more of these types of purchases."

Source: eCommerce Guide

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