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by Alex Palmer | November 14, 2014
An expansive study on online consumer behavior has found that individuals are going online for interpersonal connection and self-expression. Information technology consultancy A.T. Kearney found that almost three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents point to "connecting with other people" as a key motivation for connecting to the Internet, while 62 percent cited "expressing opinions and being heard.

The report, titled "Connected Consumers Are Not Created Equal: A Global Perspective," drew on the responses of 10,000 individuals --1,000 each in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Japan, Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa, and Nigeria -- who connect to the Internet at least once a week. 

"The need for connection, self-expression, exploration, and convenience has changed the roles that brands and retailers play," said Hana Ben-Shabat, A.T. Kearney partner and co-author of the study. "To be successful, brands and retailers must address these needs by building communities, entertaining, and educating consumers and maintaining an ongoing dialogue."

Nearly half (46 percent) of participants said social networks are the biggest draw for going online, with variation between countries (respondents in Brazil, Nigeria, India, and Russia pointed to social media as their top online activity, while in the U.S., Germany, and Japan it was lower on the list). Similar variations can be seen on the motivator of expressing opinions and being heard. It was cited as a motivator by almost 90 percent of respondents in China, India, and Nigeria; less than 40 percent of those from the U.S., Germany, and Japan said the same thing.

The top motivator for the U.S., with 97 percent pointing to it as a reason for using the Internet, was "exploring new subjects." This was followed by "accessing products and services and making purchases," with 93 percent of U.S. participants citing it.

But the growing popularity of online shopping throughout the world has led to a convergence of the online and brick-and-mortar stores, not a total abandonment of shopping in a physical store.

"Physical stores remain the foundation of retailing," said Mike Moriarty, A.T. Kearney partner and study co-author. "Ninety percent of retail sales occur in stores, and of people who buy online, 50 percent of the sales go through online sites run by retailers with physical stores. For those consumers that buy something exclusively online, chances are (67 percent) these consumers will go to a physical store to discover, test, taste or get their friends to weigh in on the decision. The key point is that the debate should not be a question of digital versus physical. Successful retailers understand how each customer touch point adds value in the eyes of customers, and they develop omni-channel strategies that maximize customer satisfaction and profitability."

The full report can be found at www.atkearney.com/connectedconsumers.