And we don't just mean buying stuff online: 40 percent of visits to retail stores involve digital interactions before or during the trip, according to research published by Deloitte.
That number seems quite plausible to us. Supermarket catalogues no longer arrive regularly in our mailbox, so we check the specials online when writing the shopping list. If we need office products, we look up prices on the 'blue box' company's web site and then decide whether the saving - if any - is sufficient to justify the longer drive to its nearest store rather than buying more locally. Something similar applies to IT gear: we know a couple of outlets that usually have the cheapest prices but they are some distance away. Checking online makes life easer, as it lets us compare prices and availability, and the latter is sometimes more important. It also allows rational decisions about price-matching offers.
More generally, who doesn't do some degree of online research before buying consumer durables? What's the reliability record of Brand A dishwashers, Brand D vacuums or Brand M washing machines? How many people say they would purchase the same brand/model again? Can I order online and nominate a narrow delivery window? Who has the keenest price?
The 40 percent figure applies to "traditional bricks-and-mortar retail visits affected by shoppers’ use of digital devices before or during the shopping trip" and is tipped to exceed 50 percent in the next few years.
Other numbers emerged from the research.
Two-thirds of customers use a digital device before a shopping trip and nearly a third use it while shopping. We can imagine both of those numbers growing the years ahead as the proportion of people leaving their phone in the car or handbag continues to shrink. Of course, these people may just be checking their Facebook rather than using the device to "interact digitally" with the store.
As for the nature of these interactions, 47 percent compare products, 42 percent access product information, and 33 percent check product availability.
For small retailers, the message seems to be that if you don't have a meaningful website - something that goes beyond where you are, when you're open, and what sort of things you sell - there's a growing risk of being marginalised.
The report is available here .
And if you've been inclined to ignore social media, think again. Based on other research, Deloitte notes that Australia is equal first (with the US) among developed countries when it comes to the influence of social media on purchases. In particular, those influenced by social media are 26 percent more likely to purchase a product than non-social media users.