I was looking through the 2007 Marketing Sherpa Ecommerce Benchmark Guide and found an interesting chart that online retailers and small business owners should see. The graph shows responses of 698 members of an Eversave.com customer panel (74% female and 26% male) when asked "How do online shoppers find new retailers?"
I can be considered both a Gen X'r and a Millennial depending on which date range you use, and I consider myself heavily reliant on the internet for much of my information. I often find myself going online to find restaurant menus, store hours, and product information for things before I buy, and ofter I do this after normal business hours in the evening and on my own time. So, I wasn't surprised to see Marketing Sherpa's findings that show 52% of online shoppers find new retailers by searching for products using Google, Yahoo!, etc. and clicking on links in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
I personally believe word of mouth referrals are still strong, and I'm a bit surprised that it ranks so low in this study. And, I would like to know the age range of the participants of this study.
Yet, even if age is a factor, the majority of consumers search for retailers online,
and this trend is likely to continue to grow.
What This Means for Small Business Owners
So, what does this mean to small businesses and mom and pop store owners who may not be internet savvy? It means if you don't have a website, your missing out on a large segment of consumers who may otherwise buy your products, but end up shopping at your competitor's website or a large chain retailer's website.
If you have a website, it means you should pay attention to where your website ranks for particular keywords that relate to your business. To do this, you have to put on your consumer's hat and pretend you don't know your business exists. Then type keywords in Yahoo! or Google that consumers may use to find products your business provides (not your business name!) If your site doesn't come up on the first page, then you are missing out on a large pool of consumers, leads, and potential sales.
I wouldn't recommend that you abandon traditional forms of advertising. However, it may reveal how consumers skeptically perceive traditional advertising and prefer to research on their own. As a member of the GenX/Millennial generation, I feel empowered to investigate product claims online for myself rather than take the word of a talking head on tv who claims to "guarantee the lowest price." Plus, I find it much more convenient to buy online rather than drive to a store, and I appreciate businesses who cater to my desire rather than force me to shop or buy products their way.
In a nutshell, you should take a look at your website or consider creating a website. If you sell products, you should consider offering consumers the option to buy online. You should also type 5 different keywords or keyword phrases in Google or Yahoo! (not your business name!) that summarize your product/services and see where your website appears in the results. It's okay to get local by typing geographical descriptors of your business. If your website doesn't appear, give me a call and I'll let you know what you can do to fix it.