How are customers using the Web to make their buying choices? That’s the key question in a new report from Oracle.

The report, entitled The Connected Customer 2012: Evolving Behavior Patterns, was based on an online survey conducted in April by Oracle Retail’s E-Tailing Group. The aim was to examine consumer browsing and buying behavior across Net, mobile, social and cross-channel options. It included responses from 1,033 consumers who shopped online four or more times in the past year. The report focused on respondents who owned smartphones and/or tablets.

Shopping in a Multi-Channel Environment

The report found that determining the path buyers are taking requires more research than it used to, because consumers have access to an ever-increasing number of device and channel options. Shopping within a multi-channel environment is becoming the norm with these buyers, the report found. Smartphones and tablets are increasingly part of the “shopper’s arsenal,” although device choice depends on need, timing and location.

Buyers are becoming much more accustomed to making online price comparisons, because of the increasing convenience in doing so. They also demand comprehensive product information along with education about a product category before making their buying decisions.

The top reasons for shopping online include:

  • More opportunities to research products (81 percent)
  • The opportunity to comparison shop (81 percent)
  • The ability to shop more conveniently (77 percent)

Buy Online, Follow Up in Store

Although more than half of respondents said they like to shop on the internet because it is less expensive, physical stores clearly fit into connected buyers’ shopping strategy. Nearly half, (48 percent) said that they often research online but follow up with a store visit. For a substantial number of respondents, in-store advantages include getting the best fit on clothing, touching and feeling the product, interacting with a “savvy store associate” and the ability to obtain a product right away rather than waiting for it to arrive.

Among the Oracle report's recommendations for both e-Commerce retailers and those who run physical stores, were:

  • Building a "comprehensive shopping experience" with all the information needed to make a sale
  • Using category-centric content -- such as videos or how-to instructions -- to engage customers
  • Making sure the shopping experience includes strong imagery, supporting copy and the introduction of social elements.

The takeaway for retailers: soon, pretty much every customer will be an educated consumer thanks to their smartphones, tablets and the number of channels available to them. Engage them -- with information, social media outreach and a comprehensive shopping experience.