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Discovering the “nonline” land in the world of e-commerce

The lines between online and offline commerce are blurring. Google aimed to explore this new territory by analyzing “nonline” shopping in its recently released Pre-Holiday 2012 Consumer Intentions study. Google teamed up with market research organization Ipsos OTX to conduct an online survey of 1,500 holiday consumers.

“I think the whole concept of nonline is customers are connected to brands at all times of the day, and they’re going to choose how they want to interact and, at the end of the day, purchase,” says Brett Goffin, Google’s retail head of industry. “The retailers who understand that are going to be ones in the long-term that, we believe, are going to succeed.”

Goffin notes that the borders between online and offline shopping are disappearing. According to the study, 51% of surveyed consumers intend to research a product online and visit the store to buy it; 32% plan on researching an item online, inspecting it in the store, and then retreating back online to complete the transaction.

“Retail is all centered around the customer, and this is another great example of where the customer doesn’t differentiate between their website, or their store, or their mobile site, or shopping from their tablet,” Goffin says. “The customer just wants to interact with that retail brand the way they want to interact with them. I think we’re at the point, especially with the proliferation of devices, where consumers really don’t think about it consciously—I’m buying online or I’m buying offline.”

Goffin attributes this fusion partially to consumers feeling more comfortable buying online—including  seeing the convenience of shipping and not being fearful of providing credit card information—but also to their desires to make an educated purchase.

“They don’t want to go to the sore to become educated,” Goffin says. “They want to go to the store in an educated mind-set so that they can be more efficient when they’re there, and they can use their time more wisely.”

According to the study, 24% of consumers will turn to social media for their holiday shopping this year, while only 11% will rely on blogs or message boards. Although both sets of consumers are seeking recommendations, Goffin says, social media adds that personal touch when it comes to weighing in on a purchasing decision.

“The value of social media is that you’re taking personal recommendations of an existed trusted source,” Goffin says. “You have circles of friends that you trust for a variety of topics, and it’s kind of like word of mouth versus the person on the street.”

Goffin also notes that consumers want to manage the content they receive. This craving for control is apparent in the study’s findings: 56% of consumers will check-out a retailer’s store site compared to the 8% will look at online, full-length direct-response TV programming.

“It’s push rather than pull,” he says. “They want to be the ones controlling the content conception—choosing their own adventure if you will.”

Additionally, Goffin points out that it’s consumers’ hunt for customization that makes search an essential marketing tool this holiday season. “Most customers will tell you, if you ask them, ‘No, I don’t like advertising.’ But in the world of search, they do because they’re the most relevant to their often commercial queries,” Goffin says. “It’s the interruption of a TV commercial versus actually proactively seeking content that’s relevant to them.”

With 54% of consumers planning to kick off their holiday shopping before Black Friday, Goffin advises marketers to establish values for particular shopping behaviors, such as new site visitors or calls to the store, through micro-conversions to help prepare for the 31% of consumers who intend to research early but procrastinate and shop in early to mid-December.

“This shopping is happening now, and assuming that the deals present themselves appropriately at the time customers are ready to buy, there’s a value of actually getting your brand in front of customers today,” Goffin says.

However, Goffin discourages marketers from losing sight of the big picture benefits of integration. “I think one of the key [pitfalls] is becoming siloed and channeled with their approach,” Goffin says. “Customers are on their tablet, or on their mobile phone, or on their PC at the same time, and it’s important to have a cohesive strategy and an enterprise-wide strategy about all devices.”

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