In-store vs. online shopping: where and what do consumers buy?

What’s your price?

You have one. At some point, you’ll ask: “do I really need this?” And, as it turns out, the answer to that question will change—quite a bit—if you’re shopping online.

Think about it.

It’s a risk aversion. You tend to spend more in-store because you can touch stuff…feel the fabric. Need to know how a chair feels? No problem. Sit down. But, if you can’t reach out to touch the texture of that plush chaise lounge—the one you found online—how do you know if you’ll love it?

You don’t.

And, you’re not alone.

Not at all. In fact, the nation’s largest consumer panel—Surveys On The Go® proves that you’re in great company. We sent a real-time survey to online and in-store consumers. The goal was to find out how their shopping behaviors changed based on where, and what, they were buying.

Here’s what we found: 

  1. 96% research big purchases online.
  2. In-store shoppers are 2x as likely to spend more.
  3. At 59%, quality is most important for a big purchase.

#1. 96% research big purchases online.

You walk inside.

And head to the fridge. It’s dinner time. Which means, it’s time to eat. But, as you pull open the door, you can see that the light’s out. Everything in your fridge is warm.

It’s broken.

You mutter a few, choice words. This sucks. You need a new fridge. So, you grab a bagel, and do what 96% of people would in this situation. You start to look online for a new fridge. After all, this is a big purchase. And, you want to make the right decision.

True, you don’t typically come home to a broken fridge…

So…how long do people typically think about big purchases—before they buy? 

The sweet spot is a couple of weeks, with 75% saying between 1 and 4 weeks. Which boils down to this. If you sell big-ticket items, your online game should be as strong as your in-store one is. 


Because you’re basically guaranteed an omnichannel audience.

How long do you think about a big purchase?

Does this trend hold true in other categories?

Spoiler alert: yes. 

But, the categories may still surprise you. And the channels too. 

See, people who shop online tend to have a different focus than people in-store. We touched on this earlier, but it really plays out in the categories they research.

Online shoppers are more likely to research computers and tablets online. In-store shoppers, on the other hand, care more about looking at TV and home theatre systems. And, for those of you interested in the fridge above, 13% rank appliances as their #1 product category to research.

At what point do you consider a product a big purchase?

Meanwhile, beauty & grooming is the least likely category to be researched…by both groups. 

Maybe it’s not Maybelline? 🤔

#2. In-store shoppers are 2x as likely to spend more.

Okay, so, what is a big purchase?

The magic number for our consumer panel seems to be $100+. In both groups.

At that price, 50% of online and 37% of in-store shoppers consider a product to be a big purchase. And, if we go up to $500, we capture 86% of online and 76% in-store shoppers. 

Now, things get interesting.

There’s a big difference between in-store and online at $1,000+. The in-store panelists appear to be more comfortable with higher price points. At $1,000+, 19% of shoppers say it’s a big purchase—compared to only 8% online. That’s a 2x difference. And, it’s corroborated.

By Best Buy.

At Best Buy, 52% who shopped in-store, bought a product. Online, the purchase conversion was about half as effective. Only 36% who shopped on an app or website, bought a product.

Take a look.

What product category are you most likely to research online, before buying?

It comes down to comfort.

People who shop in-store are less worried. There’s less risk. Their ability to use more senses impacts their shopping behavior. And we see it again when it comes to their thoughts on research.

In-store shoppers are less concerned with researching online than their app + web counterparts. Again, this makes sense, but it’s interesting to see it play out. A full 71% of online shoppers will research online at a $100+ price point vs. 55% of people who are in-store. 

At $500, 93% of app + web buyers will look online before they make a purchase.

So, what are they looking for?

#3. Quality is the most important factor in a big purchase.


Like the fridge from our example, your shoppers want to be sure that they’re getting the best deal. And to them, a deal includes both quality and price. Quality ranks at 59% for omnishoppers. 

We looked at 12 product categories. Surprisingly, quality won out in most, but not all categories. When it comes to video games & media and sports & outdoors—price is more important than quality. So, if you play in these categories, focus on the value you offer for the price. 

This makes sense in the overall scheme of things. Price was ranked 53% for omnishoppers. Right behind quality. To influence shopping behavior, it’s therefore essential to show consumers how you provide value in both price and quality.

Need help with research? Send us an email.

By Cathy Karcher

Reviewed by Sydney Lewis

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