Think beyond the buy: Shopping is an omnichannel journey

Sarah Bradley, Stephanie Cao June 2019 Search, Consumer Insights, Retail

Marketers understandably tend to obsess over purchases. Even if they understand an entire journey leads up to a purchase, the actual sale is the tangible result of all their efforts and the thing that puts money in the coffers. That means many end up focusing on where that purchase gets made, either online or in-store.

Illustration: A black man in a blue shirt and jeans pushes a green shopping cart while using a smartphone. A bubble shows he is searching for sneakers online while shopping. Stat: 93% of shoppers say they have used online resources in the past week.

It’s an important data point. And people historically have preferred to buy certain things online and other things at brick-and-mortar locations. But the truth is, today’s shoppers like to browse and research online, even in cases when they intend to buy in a store. In fact, 83% of U.S. shoppers who visited a store in the last week said they used online search before going into a store.1 Factor in things like video and apps, and 93% of shoppers say they’ve used online resources.2

Growth across categories

Not so long ago, buying clothing or shoes online seemed like an odd thing to do. How could you buy something without trying it on? Today, apparel is a truly omnichannel retail category. In fact, 70% of shoppers say they buy clothing both in-store and online, and 23% say they shop for clothes exclusively online.3

Of course, there are still a wide range of categories that are mostly purchased in-store — think household items like cleaning supplies or toiletries, cosmetics, or home appliances. When it comes to groceries, 77% of people say they buy them in-store only.4 But it’s telling that even in these traditionally offline categories, online shopping is on the rise.

Consider this: The percentage of shoppers who have bought sporting goods online grew to over 75% in the first three quarters of last year, significant growth from just six months prior. For large home appliances, overall growth in the online category was also significant during that time period — an increase of nearly 28%. Even food and groceries saw online category growth of 19%.5

A better experience

Overall, 68% of people say they’re looking to do more of their shopping online in the next year.6

Why shoppers prefer shopping online

3 illustrations, in a blue, yellow, and green color scheme, with numbered labels: Compass: 1. Better navigation; Thought bubble with a light bulb: 2. More suggestions and tips; Dollar bill and coin stack: 3. Better pricing.

The reason why is pretty simple. Many say the online shopping experience is better than in-store when it comes to specific aspects of shopping:

  • Better navigation: 66% of shoppers say they prefer online shopping to find items they’re looking for, compared to 27% who say they prefer offline.
  • More suggestions and tips: 59% say they prefer to go online to get helpful recommendations or suggestions on what to buy, compared to 28% for offline.
  • Better pricing: 59% say they prefer to shop online to get the best deal possible, which is also the number one thing that people say they enjoy about shopping.7

In other words, people feel that online shopping makes it easier for them to find the right item at the right price.

Be omnichannel to win

While it’s true that online shopping continues to grow across categories, it’s also true that people are actively doing both. When it comes to categories such as movies, books, and video games, 68% of shoppers say they purchase these items both in-store and online. For toys, it’s 66%, and for home electronics, it’s 64%.8

Illustration: A white circle contains 3 blue icons. A book, a video player button, and a video game controller. Stat: 68% of shoppers purchase movies, books, and video games both in-store and online.

Ultimately, people are looking to meet their needs in the most efficient way possible, whether that means shopping online only or researching online before heading to the store. Regardless of category, make sure your in-store and online experiences are

  • Integrated: Share local store inventory where possible on your site and through search.
  • Speedy: Desktop and mobile speed are just as important, or maybe more so, than speed at the store.
  • Helpful: Optimize your search functions so people can find exactly what they’re looking for, and make it easy for returning customers to pick up where they left off.

If you can follow these steps to be truly omnichannel, you’ll be poised to win.

Search to video and back again: Explore how customers move through the purchase journey