This research, carried out by the Dieringer Research Group for the 2003 American Interactive Consumer Survey, underlines three important points on the infiltration of the internet into everyday behaviour.
The first is the obvious one. The net is rapidly becoming a lucrative mainstream shopping channel. The average number of online transactions a year per online shopper was three times the average number of transactions made by mail order, although slightly more (38%) had bought through mail order than online (32%).
The second point is where it starts to get more interesting. This first generation of multi-channel shoppers are big spenders. Something like 23 million Americans spend $500 (£299) or more, both online and offline, after first gathering product information online. And here's the third, and probably most important, point for marketers to bear in mind. When asked about the impact of the internet on brand images, 45% of all online adults, which equates to 25% of all US consumers, said that their brand opinions have changed in one or more of the ten common product categories covered by the survey.
Brand opinions about airlines and hotel companies were shown to be the most likely to change because of online content, followed by household products and clothing brands. In financial services and insurance, 29% who researched online before opening an account or policy said their opinions of the brands had changed.
So here's the conundrum: web sites have a growing impact on how and how much people buy, and what they think of the company and brand; so why do so many companies get it so wrong? A report from Forrester on the best and worst of site design reckons that of the 20 sites it evaluated in the automotive, media, retail and travel sectors, 18 didn't make the grade. Forrester looked at qualities such as how useful the sites were in terms of what they were supposed to do, how easy they were to navigate, their presentation and how trustworthy they were perceived to be.
For example, it found that the US sites for BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volkswagen all use the sort of tricky menus that would tax the hand-eye co-ordination of a teenage video game addict.
Also, many of the sites had too much gaping white space and, like silence on the radio, a little white space goes a long way.
The solutions are obvious. Get the information and tools visitors need on the pages where they need them. Treat navigation as a means, not an end: menus and links should be as quick and transparent as possible. Present products and services, not design elements. Finally, build trust by integrating support for users into key pages.
It's understandable that, particularly for consumer goods companies, the web site has been seen as somewhat marginal to mainstream marketing.
But bear in mind that, in July, 9.5 million people visited the ten top food and drink sites, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, even though they can't make direct purchases.
Like it or not, a web site speaks volumes about how a company feels about its customers. And for too many, that should be a sobering thought.
This article was first published on Marketing