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Browsers become buyers as online intent doubles

In perhaps the most rapid shift in consumer behavior ever witnessed, the number of people who intend to buy something online has doubled from just three years ago, according to Nielsen’s new Global Survey of e-commerce.

Nielsen gathered input from 30,000 Internet users in 60 countries to examine online shopping and purchasing intentions for consumable and non-consumable categories. One of the key takeaways was that online purchase intentions around the world have doubled since 2011 for many durable and entertainment-related categories including e-books, event tickets, sporting goods and toys. Nearly half of global respondents intend to make an online purchase in the next six months in high-prominence categories including clothing (46%) and airline (48%) and hotel (44%) reservations.

“The lightning-fast pace of change in the digital landscape has ushered in a consumer mindset that is both adventurous and exploratory when it comes to online shopping,” said John Burbank, Nielsen’s president of strategic initiatives. “Consumers everywhere want a good product at a good price, and the seemingly limitless options available in a virtual environment provide new opportunities for both merchants and consumers. The market for fast-moving consumer goods is no exception.”

The online market for groceries and other consumable products, while not as strong as non-consumable categories, is also seeing movement. Since 2011, global online purchase intentions for the cosmetic category increased six percentage points to 31%, groceries rose five percentage points to 27% and baby supplies jumped 12 percentage points to 20%. The pet category doubled in two years from 9% in 2012 to 21% in 2014.

According to Nielsen, when it comes to shopping for clothes, event tickets, books and toys, or making reservations for tours and hotels, there is mostly a one-to-one correlation between online searching and shopping. In other words, those who browse online also buy online.

The correlation is nearly as strong in consumables. For example, in cosmetics, 33% of global respondents say they browse, and 31% say they buy. Similarly, about one-third of global respondents say they browse and buy personal care products (31%/29%) and groceries (30%/27%). About one-fourth browse and buy pet products (24%/21%) and baby supplies (23%/20%), and roughly one-fifth browse/buy flowers (20%/18%) and alcoholic drinks (20%/17%).
 
“Strong online browse-to-buy conversion rates for fast-moving consumer goods translates to loyal repeat customers for these categories,” said Burbank. “While these categories are still in the early stages of online adoption, these correlation rates signal great news for online retailers. Now is the time to create omnichannel experiences for consumers who are actively using both digital and physical platforms to research and purchase, as consumers increasingly don’t make a distinction between the two.”

Nielsen also determined some categories have a wider gap between online browsing and conversion. For example, a seven percentage point difference was seen in the browse versus buy difference in categories such as electronic equipment, mobile phones, computer hardware/software, sporting goods, videos/DVDs/games and cars/motorcycles. These products can carry a high price tag and often require a try-before-you-buy test run, according to Nielsen.

The e-commerce survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries was conducted between February 17 and March 7.

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