Are Web Shoppers More Discerning?

Not only have consumers embraced a new way of shopping, but there has been a sea change in the ways in which consumers think about shopping, according to new research conducted by Yahoo and Universal McCann.

Although consumers are not checking online to see if they can score their Peanut M&Ms for a better price, those kinds of purchases are, apparently, the only variety whose prices consumers do not digitally compare around the retail universe.

According to Lauren Weinberg, Yahoo’s senior director of strategic insights and research, the shift has been in the making for more than 10 years, but the trend accelerated over the past two years.

“The past couple of years have been even more complicated,” she said. “There are more channels for influencing consumers. Social and mobile have really changed the shopping landscape.”

The results of the study, which examined consumer behavior in the digital universe, are notable because of what they reveal about consumers’ attitudes towards the information they discover online. The old paradigm was that consumers passively received information from advertising, made purchasing decisions based largely on that passive receipt of information and, if marketers did their jobs correctly, became loyal customers who were less likely to shop comparatively and more likely to make a beeline toward their preferred brands.

The research suggests that although there now are more ways to communicate with consumers, that communication is much more complicated. Consumers no longer receive information; they actively seek it out. Consumers are also fully participating in the conversation and generating content that, in turn, drives other consumers into the conversation. Fifty-five percent of consumers polled for the research said that the Internet has made them less impulsive shoppers. And those consumers look to other consumers for useful product information and hints about the best deals available in virtually all categories. In other words, not only are people reading the reviews on shopping sites, they are taking those reviews seriously, especially when the sites are well known and established.

“Consumers have gotten savvy,” said Weinberg. “It comes down to where they are reading those reviews. On a site like Amazon, that’s trusted, consumers are going to trust what they are reading.”

One of the biggest changes in consumer behavior reflected in the research is the shift in mediums that attract the highest degree of consumer trust. According to the study, 69 percent of shoppers trust the Internet. That is compared to 43 percent who trust magazine advertising and 35 percent who trust television advertising.

According to Weinberg, consumers make use of social web sites more after they make purchases than before. She said that the research suggests that people “aren’t going to Facebook to see what to buy.” She said that once consumers have made a purchase, they are more likely to share how they feel about the product, especially if those feelings are positive, on social networking sites. “It’s more after market than a driver of the behavior,” she said.

Ultimately, Weinberg said, the Internet has empowered consumers in ways both expected and unexpected. She suggested that the wealth of product information and reviews has dovetailed with an extended economic downturn to make consumers even more interested in locating the best deal on the products and services in which they are interested. “It’s become a kind of gamesmanship, sort of like a competition,” she said. “The stigma associated with bargain hunting has diminished. Getting a good price is something that people now brag about.”

Weinberg said that the research suggests that marketers need to completely rethink the way in which they reach consumers through advertising.  “Advertising needs to be more integrated in the overall process,” she said.  “Marketers can no longer depend solely on mass messaging from TV.”

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