Online & Offline Consumer Behavior

Tracking Online and Offline Consumer Behavior

Online marketing analysts have advocated the crucial role that search plays in marketing and advertising campaigns for over a decade now. David Verklin, CEO of Carat Americas and chairman of Asia Pacific, recently pointed out at the Yahoo Search Marketing Conference that “Search will become ubiquitous.” Just as Tivo is the search engine for television and GPS is a form of search for cars, “search is becoming the behavior of choice” for today’s consumers. Effective search campaigns can direct consumers to a merchant’s web site first, and then provide consumers with the ability to browse, research, make a purchase, contact customer service, or find a physical location.

A new study sponsored by iProspect and conducted by JupiterResearch, The Post-Holiday Online Shopping Study, revealed that search engines dominated product research and buying as the method of choice, with 53% of respondents making purchases online. The study also indicates that the internet is not seen as just a vendor, but also as a reliable research tool. 63% of survey respondents researched products at online merchant sites, while 62% of internet shoppers relied on search engines such as Google and Yahoo! for product info, choices and merchants.

Such consumer behavior not only suggests the effectiveness of search engine marketing, but also the control that consumers prefer in their research and buying. Consumer-directed search behavior is quickly guiding the marketing landscape away from advertiser control and into the hands of consumers. National advertisers are adjusting marketing plans to include search into the marketing mix.

As MSN’s AdCenter continues to provide better online marketing tools for advertisers, such as demographics-driven data, 2006 Super Bowl TV advertisers reaping the benefits of search marketing, and online searches doubling in 2005 (according to research by Nielsen/NetRatings), the goal of marketers is now to place their products and services in the path of a user’s online search.

Another discovery revealed by the iProspect study confirmed that a majority of shoppers go online to research products, but nearly half still favor offline purchases at bricks-and-mortar retailers. During the 2005 holiday season, 47% of internet users who researched products online chose to buy these products through other offline channels, including by phone and at a physical store.

Statistics reveal a serious lack of offline tracking for online campaigns by marketers. Without full measurements for offline conversions, the study points out that search marketers can “cede as much as half their online ROI, and possible future budget dollars, to other marketing channels.” In other words, search marketing campaigns can be under-budgeted by as much as half due to inaccurate ROI measurements as a result of omitting offline conversions.

The recent search marketing studies and new technologies highlights two key factors for both marketers and any business with an online presence: online merchants’ products must be easily accessible through general search engines as the potential of this medium continues to grow, and marketers must measure offline conversions for online efforts in order to more effectively manage online campaigns.