Pre-shop Research Study: Why Shoppers Visit Retailer Websites

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Pre-shop Research Study: Why Shoppers Visit Retailer Websites

By Institute Staff - 07/22/2015
Q&A with Terese Herbig
Terese Herbig
Terese Herbig

In early 2015, the Path to Purchase Institute engaged Field Agent to produce a joint study in which more than 2,100 visits to retailer websites were analyzed. Terese Herbig, managing director – member development  at the Institute, recently shared her thoughts on the study with Shopper Marketing.

Why did you initiate this study?

Herbig: As we talk to brands and retailers every day, we hear a common theme: many brands and retailers are not sure how and why shoppers are using retailer websites. This potential engagement point along the path to purchase was assumed by many brands to be just for consumer electronics and a place for coupons and deals. Retailers knew how many shoppers came to their sites but didn’t know how those shoppers were using competitive sites. The industry cared; it just didn’t know how it might go about getting the shopper understanding in this space.

Why Field Agent as a partner?

Herbig: Field Agent’s panel offered real-time research, so shoppers didn’t have to recall what they did, when and why. We captured them in the moment of their shopping trip – in this case their site visits that occurred naturally. Field Agent was able to pre-screen a robust group of its panelists who regularly visited retailer websites so we could be sure to more fully understand these shopper visitors.

What challenges are brands facing?

Herbig: Brands are advertising on retailer sites, but they are most often doing that in a bit of an unplanned approach. They haven’t been strategically considering the retailer websites as a contact point with shoppers along the journey to purchase.

What was your hypothesis before conducting the research?

Herbig: We expected that shoppers visited these sites for consumer electronics and to clip coupons, review circulars and get deals before their shopping trip. 

Was it accurate? How did things play out?

Herbig: Our hypothesis was partially correct. Consumer electronics and deals/specials were strong motivations for site visits. But, what we learned was that food and HBA categories were also very important categories, and that the pre-shopping behavior of site visitors doesn’t just mean clipping coupons. It also means making a list and being inspired by content they see online. Most surprisingly, the motivation level of these site-visiting shoppers is super-high. One in five go to the physical store the same day as their site visit. That was our “wow” moment. There were also some interesting insights uncovered about specific retailer site-visit motivations. 

What were some of the key implications for brands and retailers from the study?

Herbig: For brands, they have a real opportunity to engage shoppers on these retailer websites with inspiring content beyond great deals. Getting on the list of a motivated shopper will most certainly drive growth. For retailers, presenting their site to shopper visitors in a manner that offers them the inspiration they seek, the digital shelf they need, will drive both in-store and online sales.

Based on the research, what best practices have emerged?

Herbig: Some brands and retailers are experimenting with content and calls to action that more directly engage motivated shoppers. Also, new product introduction campaigns are beginning to leverage retailer websites at the moment of distribution rather than waiting for the national campaign launch. And, retailer collaboration strategies for this shared-media environment are being adjusted based on the role of the site within the retailer’s omnichannel strategies.

How is this research being received?

Herbig: This research has supported annual plans for a few brands already and we have been asked by two retailers to share the research more broadly within their organization as they strive to learn better ways to connect with shoppers and drive traffic and sales.

Question 1:  What made you decide to visit today? 
(Select all that apply.)


• Product research was most triggered on (57%) and mass merchant channel site visits (37%).

• While trip planning occurred in 51% of the grocery retailer site visits, deciding which store to visit was the reason for 31% of the dollar channel site visits.

• While trip planning is not the strongest trigger for Target and Walmart, about one in five visits are specifically for trip planning.

• When a store trip occurs, it is more likely to be a fill-in trip for grocery (43%) and for dollar (42%); an immediate needs trip for drug (45%); and a special occasion trip for club (38%) and for mass (33%).

Question 2:  Did you go to directly, or did you click on a link that took you there from another location?

• The vast majority of site visitors (more than 80%) begin by going to the retailer site directly rather than through a link, search or email. (CVS visitors are a bit more likely to come in through another source.) In the minority of cases where site visitors do not arrive at the site directly, email is the most frequent path they take.

Question 3:  What types of items or information did you look at or shop for
on today?

• When CPG categories are viewed, the visits are less likely to be primarily about electronics, entertainment, toys, etc. than average. This suggests that visitors do not start out in other categories and just happen to look at CPG; instead, they are focused on those categories during the visit.

• Beverages top the list of food items viewed. Grocery retailers get more views of fresh items. When the visit involves looking for health & beauty/personal care, the items most likely to be viewed are bath/body care and hair care, except on, where the visits were more focused on diet/nutrition and skin care.

Question 4:  Did you visit a store and buy any of the items that you viewed

• About 20% of visits are followed by a store trip the same day to purchase an item viewed on the site. Dollar (39%), drug (36%) and grocery (35%) have the highest proportion of same-day trips.

• (17%) and (8%) have the lowest proportion of visits followed by same-day trips, likely due to more visits being used to research products and electronics than other sites. Nevertheless, because these sites generate a large volume of traffic, even at lower proportions, they still generate a large number of same-day trips. While mass merchandiser visits are less likely to be followed by a same-day store visit than some other channels, they have a high likelihood of generating a store trip within 10 days (56%).

Question 5:  Which of the following best describes your visit
to today?  (Select only one.)

• Dollar channel visitors have the highest likelihood of looking at unplanned content during their visit.

• visitors are most likely to view only what they planned.

• The sites which are used more often for trip planning (drug, dollar, grocery) tend to have more unplanned content viewing; sites used more often for product research (,, tend to have less.

Question 6:  Which of the following did  you do during your visit
to today?

• About a third of all site visits result in an item being added to a shopping list. One-half of visits to grocery and dollar result in an item making the list.

• Amazon yielded an e-commerce purchase in more than one in five visits.

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