Where does the Internet fit in the buying decision process?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has just released a study that reveals that although the Internet is a valuable research tool that helps people sort through product choices, they’re still tending to make their purchases off-line. Surprisingly, this applies even to music purchases, an area where digital downloading is a cheap and simple way to obtain the product.

Pew research director John Horrigan said that just 22% of all music buyers say their most recent purchase was online (either a digital download or ordering a compact disc), while 74% said their most recent purchase was at a store. 

As well as being used for pre-purchase research, the Web plays a more critical role after people buy music. Nearly 40% visit the artist’s or band’s Web site, 28% look online for live performances, and 26% go to blogs or sites about the music.

Horrigan told Online Media Daily that the Internet was a “tactical tool” rather than a “game-changer” when it comes to purchase decisions. “Even with a digital product such as music, you still see people learning about new music through friends and family,” he said. “And they want to buy music in stores as opposed to online.”

The study also tracked the decision-making processes for buying a mobile phone and buying or renting a home. It found that: 

  • The internet helps music buyers connect with artists and learn more about music, but it doesn’t strongly influence what or how they buy
  • The internet is an influential source of information and options for those purchasing feature-rich items such as cell phones
  • The internet is an efficiency-enhancer in searching for new housing
  • Few internet users bother to rate or comment on their purchase, even for a digital good such as music

The Pew survey cited the Internet as a key – but not the most important – resource in mobile phone comparison shopping. Among those who bought a phone in the last year, 39% used the Internet, compared to 59% who asked an expert or salesperson for advice and 46% went to one or more retail stores.

Among those who went online, 48% said it changed the model or brand the got, 43% said it led to getting a phone with more features and 41% said the move saved them some money.

But only 10% said the Internet had a major influence on their purchase. More than 75% bought their devices in stores, and only 12% online.