Easy search tools were seen as the most useful and desired characteristic of retail websites in a recent survey from The E-tailing Group Inc., a consulting firm in Chicago. Keyword search was rated very to most important by 80 percent of the 1,500 online shoppers surveyed.
Advanced search functionality ranked high with 67 percent of the consumers. Product comparison tools were equally important, while customer ratings and reviews followed with high ranking among 60 percent.
Nearly 74 percent indicated that they typically comparison shop three sites or more before making a purchase, while 60 percent search directly at a favored merchant. More than half said they browse multiple online stores before completing a purchase. Yet streamlined shopping is prized. Sixty nine percent want a perpetual shopping cart and 60 percent want single page checkout.
Not surprisingly, online shoppers like bargains. A whopping 86 percent want free shipping, and 76 percent want sales and specials, according to the study.
What the E-tailing Group's researchers call gifting tools are growing in importance to online shoppers. Nearly half want to be able to buy gift cards online, which is an increase from 43 percent a year ago. Forty one percent want to send the different elements of a purchase to different addresses, and 31 percent want to create wish lists.
Regarding their online shopping habits in 2008, the survey revealed that:
? 68 percent plan to spend about the same as last year.
? 44 percent anticipate spending in the $100-$500 range, and the same number expect to spend more than $500 online.
? 53 percent intend to purchase 16 or more gifts.
? 74 percent expect to purchase about the same number of gifts online as last year.
The survey also asked consumers to name positive or negative experiences about shopping online. Among the frequently named positives were free shipping and bargains. By contrast, the top negatives were high shipping costs, other shipping problems, return problems and out of stocks. More than half of those surveyed said they had had too many good experiences to name a negative experience.
"These responses challenge merchants to push those shopping online to buy more, and entice those who prefer the store encounter to venture online via a more engaging experience," said Lauren Freedman, president of The E-tailing Group.
"This will be accomplished by creating exciting, fun, easy to shop environments with desired products in stock, coupled with relentless customer service, starting with timely, reasonably priced delivery. Ultimately, customers try the web, become hooked on the convenience and continue to up the ante, increasing their spending throughout the year," Freedman concluded.
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