You know all those times you researched your nuts off trying to find the perfect product online? A waste of time. All those hours comparing price and performance? Wasted. All that effort hunched over your laptop while your kids played violent SAS games with next door’s rabbit? A pointless exercise.

Why’s that? Well, a study has shown that, no matter how much research we do, we invariably end up buying the first thing we looked at.

Spending weeks shopping around, while you grow a fine beard or awesome leg hair and your children forage for basic nourishment down the back of the sofa, is pointless, says specialist journal Marketing Science.

The study found that it makes little difference whether online buyers take an hour or a month to find what they want. It seems you’ll either find something right away or spend weeks combing every pixel of the Internet only to end up with the product you first saw. While your children go gently feral.

Researchers from the Netherlands, Hong Kong and the US looked at 1,000 sales of digital cameras from Walmart, Amazon and Best Buy. They looked closely at the purchasing and browsing history of the buyers over three months – what they looked at, and for how long, before they bought.

Some bought before they’d even finished their first cappuccino, which suggests they either knew what they wanted or found the right thing instantly. About a quarter of buyers bought the cameras in one online session.

Another 40% of shoppers looked at only one particular brand before deciding which one to buy. The researchers concluded that most people know what they want even before they search.

On average, people purchased 15 days after the first search, after six different online sessions. However, some site-hopped for up to 30 days before making their minds up.

Bart Bronnenberg, a researcher from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said: “What surprised us was that consumers don’t explore anywhere close to the full range of products and attributes in the category. The final product they purchase is very close in terms of the attributes to the products they discovered on the first day.

“This suggests that consumers have a rough idea of the quality and type of features they want as they begin to search.”

Now stop researching and go cut your grass. Who knows what’s hiding in there.

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Author Chris Painter

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