97 Percent of Consumers Look Online Before Buying Locally

Author // Mike Kalil    

If you're not already devoting most of your marketing budget to the Internet, now is the time to change your game plan. A new study by BIA/Kelsey indicates that 97 percent of consumers go online to research products and services locally. If they're not finding you during their searches, there's no doubt about it: You're losing business, and probably lots of it.

Consumers are getting their information from a variety of sources, but most of them start with popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Of those who participated in the study, 90 percent reported using search engines to conduct research. Forty-eight percent use the online Yellow pages, 42 percent use shopping comparison sites and 24 percent use vertical sites.

Consumers are also becoming more Internet savvy, the study shows. The average consumer uses 7.9 different sources when looking to buy products and services locally; that's up from 2009's 6.5 and 2008's 5.8. Fifty-eight percent take advantage of online coupons and 19 percent have made appointments via the Internet in the past six months. With numbers like this, it's baffling that, as of a year ago, 44 percent of small businesses didn't even have websites.

Steve Marshall, BIA/Kelsey's director of research, said in a statement: “The Internet has indeed become an integral part of consumers' local commercial activity. The data suggests we're at an inflection point where the balance of power in local shopping is shifting to online.”

That shift is a good thing for consumers and quality businesses. More than ever, consumers are empowered to make wise buying decisions, and it's getting harder for subpar businesses to hide behind traditional marketing techniques like TV, radio and print ads.

Your online presence is as important as your physical location, if not more so. If your website is unsightly or confusing to navigate, consumers can and will take their business elsewhere, and your competition is usually only a backspace away. And if you're not being found in search engines for relevant keywords, you're not even getting a chance to compete for business. It's going to your competition by default. Your business might as well not exist.

It's been a long time since businesses could afford ignoring the Internet. It's no longer a novelty. Simply put: You can't expect to stay in business without truly committing to marketing yourself online.