Online Research Drives Offline Sales

Online product research conducted by consumers the past year drove $180.7 billion in offline spending, compared to $106.5 billion in direct online consumer spending, according to new research findings from The American Interactive Consumer Survey, conducted by The Dieringer Research Group [].

The survey of 3,000 U.S. adults covered online and offline purchasing behaviors and impacts during the 12-month period ending the second quarter this year.

"The new annual spending data indicate that at least $1.70 is spent offline after doing online research for every consumer dollar spent directly online," says Thomas E. Miller, senior consultant at The Dieringer Research Group.

According to the research, nearly 15 percent of total U.S. retail spending (excluding gasoline, food services and inventories) is currently influenced altogether by the Internet, a much higher ratio than is commonly cited.

The study reinforces other findings released at the iMedia Brand Summit last month in Deer Valley, Utah. The MSN Media Accountability Study, conducted by MSN in conjunction with Rex Briggs of Marketing Evolution, analyzed the online component of ad campaigns conducted by Nestlé’s Coffee-Mate and Kraft’s Jell-o brands and found that online does indeed increase offline sales.

Dieringer's study also found that Internet-influenced offline spending is now growing faster than direct online spending. Internet-influenced offline sales grew 31 percent last year and direct online sales grew 14 percent, while total U.S. retail spending grew only 5 percent during the comparable period.

"The data confirm that the Internet's role as a consumer product information utility is much larger than its role as a direct selling medium," Miller says.

And retail numbers don't paint the full picture.

Technically, retail spending data does not capture all the ways in which the Internet impacts the U.S. consumer economy, according to The Dieringer Research Group research. For example, the survey also found that 17 percent of all U.S. consumers who opened new financial service accounts or took out new insurance policies the past year used the Internet in their product decision-making process.

"Those decisions by online consumers affected literally billions of dollars in financial services revenues, making the total dollar impact of online information far greater than anyone is talking about," says Miller.

The study findings have far reaching implications, from emphasizing the growing power of online advertising to drive offline traffic, to the importance of integrating branding, marketing as well as customer service messages across media channels.

The American Interactive Consumer Survey covers multi-channel consumer shopping and personal finance behaviors. The Dieringer Research Group has been conducting this annual survey since 1995.