Thursday, September 30, 2010

Have You Started Your Holiday Pre-Shopping Yet?

It's funny how behavioral change can just sneak up on you. Not just individual behavior, but societal behavior. And here we go again.

According to a new Pew Internet study, 58% of American adults now perform online research about the products and services that they are considering purchasing.

Of course, there is nothing new about "shopping around." I am sure we all have vivid memories of mom scouring the Wednesday newspaper ads as a prelude to her Thursday grocery shopping. And dad never bought new tires without checking the sports section of the paper for the best deals.

But this isn't a pure swap out. First of all, consumers are still referencing newspaper and magazine and TV and radio ads. In point of fact, consumers still spend more time watching TV and listening to radio and reading newspapers and magazines than they do on the Internet.

The behavioral change I am referring to has to do with the search process. Consumers aren't just reading ads on the Internet, they are going online to learn about the products they want, and find the best prices, and locate the most convenient stores (or buy it online) and discover what other consumers – or editors or bloggers – have to say about the product, and they even leave their own comments.

As if shopping isn't exhausting enough in its own right, we have now added a whole new level of pre-shopping activity (double ugh).

And what this means to the companies that make products, as well as the stores that sell products, is that you better catch up quick if you hope to satisfy the needs of the next generation of shoppers. Your web site better be occupied with tons of content – product descriptions, instructions, diagrams, photos, videos, testimonials – and interactive functionality and links to social network sites and easy to use shopping carts and store locators and on and on.

Because like it or not, the line at the cash register is now preceded by a visit to your web site (assuming your site is effectively optimized to achieve top search ranking).

Caveat venditor.

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