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Survey: Web Sites Building Better Brand Loyalty Than Physical Stores

But most consumers, even those who use the Web for product research, prefer to make their purchases in a store.

Retail Web sites are much more valuable than the sales they generate--they build significant brand loyalty by providing a more satisfying shopping experience than brick-and-mortar stores do, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The study, conducted by online customer-satisfaction consultancy ForeSee Results and market research firm FGI Research, was based on survey responses culled between Dec. 9 and Dec. 18 from more than 4,000 consumers who purchased products within the past 90 days from a handful of multichannel retailers in each of five categories: department stores; gifts; apparel and accessories; toys, books and games; and electronics and computers. Survey respondents were asked about a range of shopping factors such as brand image, consistency, convenience, merchandise, and price.

Survey findings indicated that shoppers who use the Web as their primary research tool are more satisfied than those who go straight to brick-and-mortar stores. And those who research and buy on the Web are the most satisfied and loyal customers, and are the most likely to make additional purchases in the coming year. Additionally, nearly as many people are doing their shopping research online regardless of whether they'll make their purchases on the Web or in stores. Some 38% of shoppers use the Web as their primary shopping research tool, compared with 41% who rely on stores for their research. In the electronics/computers and toys/books/games categories, online research plays an even greater role, with nearly half of shoppers doing their research online.

Despite the inferior satisfaction they experience in stores, 86% of shoppers still prefer to make their purchases there, while just 14% purchase online. Even among the 38% who rely more on online research, 71% choose to complete their purchases in a physical store.

Still, the survey findings imply that the Web may be a more critical driver of growth than many multichannel retailers realize because it appeals to their most loyal customers, and does a better job of building loyalty among other customers than physical stores do.

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