Retail Customers Embrace Online Shopping

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Retail sales for the holiday season just behind us rose about 4.8%, compared with sales during the 2011 holiday shopping season. Online sales rose by more than 14%, and that growth is virtually certain to continue.

At this week’s National Retail Federation convention in New York, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) presented a just-completed global study indicating that consumers are increasingly willing to make purchases online. Some 84% of consumers made their last nonfood purchase in a bricks-and-mortar store, but more than a third of those do not know if their next purchase will be in a physical store or online.

Perhaps even more damaging to traditional stores, nearly half of all 2012 holiday online purchases resulted from “showrooming,” where customers visit stores, browse the products and ultimately make the purchase online. And for 75% of those showroomers, the reasons they made their purchases online were price and convenience.

The IBM study also showed that one-third of showroomer purchases were made at online-only stores, like Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY). The study also showed that showrooming is more popular in China and India, where 26% and 13% of shoppers were showroomers, than in the United States, where only 7% were showroomers.

IBM is using the study as a lever to drive business to its consulting and solutions operations, but the data pretty much tallies with other recent studies of retail trends. The one thing the IBM study does not break out is the percentage of online retail sales that were made from mobile devices. That was a hot topic during the 2012 holiday season, and it probably will heat up even more as this year moves inexorably to the next holiday season.

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