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MBPT Spotlight: Study Uncovers In-Depth Insights Into Global Internet Users For Marketers

A new study by global management consulting company A.T. Kearney finds that while more than half of the respondents in 10 countries say they are connected to the Internet nearly every waking hour of the day, motivating online consumers to make purchases is no easy task for marketers.

“You would think that our world’s remarkable connectivity would be a marketer’s dream come true—the opportunity to reach consumers anytime, anywhere,” the report says. “But in reality, connectivity has created unforeseen challenges—siloed and dislocated marketing budgets, global brand builders and retailers that, in most cases, still have not unified their approaches to shoppers and consumers in both developing and developed markets who are becoming dramatically more sophisticated, often in surprising ways.”

The study surveyed 10,000 “connected consumers,” those connected at least once a week, but often more, including 1,000 each in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Japan, Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and Nigeria.

In the U.S., 51% of consumers said they are connected to the Internet either “all day long” or more than 10 times a day. That’s about right in the middle of the 10 countries in terms of Internet connectivity. No. 1 was consumers in Brazil, where 71% said they are connected either all day long or more than 10 times a day. Next was Nigeria with 66%, followed by India with 63%. At the other end of the spectrum were consumers in China and Japan with connectivity on an all-day or more-than-10-hour basis reaching 36% and 39%, respectively.

The survey not surprisingly found that the most continuously connected consumers tend to be younger and single, with 53% male and 47% female. It also found that even as smartphones become a more popular way to connect to the Internet, 64% of those surveyed said they prefer using PCs when they use the Web.

The main reasons consumers gave for connecting to the Internet were: (1) Interpersonal connection or being able to communicate with family and friends; (2) Self-expression; (3) Exploration or learning experience; and (4) Convenience for connecting to entertainment or any other products and services, including those in unfamiliar places.

Social networking is the reason most often cited as to why Internet users go online these days. Across the 10 countries, 46% selected it as the activity they spent the greatest amount of their time online doing. In the U.S. it was listed by 39%. Online entertainment was next, listed by 23% worldwide and 26% in the U.S. Next was shopping—18% worldwide and a similar percentage in the U.S. Fourth was transactional services, listed 13% globally and by 17% in the U.S.

In the U.S., consumers are most active on Facebook (51%), followed by Pinterest (15%), Instagram (13%), Google Plus (13%), LinkedIn (12%) and Twitter (11%). In contrast, China consumers actively use eight social networks at a higher rate than those used by U.S. consumers. They include: Ozone (80%), Weibo (77%), Tencent QQ (62%); Pengyou (44%); Kaixin001 (42%); Renren (44%); Douban (44%); and (35%).

“In China, where there are many homegrown social media sites, the landscape is quite different,” the report says. “Ozone has nearly universal participation, and daily logins show the intensity of China’s connected consumers. Weibo and Tencent QQ reflect a much more intense online activity than the U.S.’s second- and third-ranked social networks. It’s little wonder that Alibaba’s recent IPO popped off the charts.”

So how does connectivity influence purchasing decisions and are they influenced by online marketing? The study asked consumers about banner and pop-up ads and also about social media “likes” and comments by other consumers about products.

The report found that while in mature countries banner ads and pop-ups often generate “rolls of the eyes” by consumers, in some of the developing countries, they continue to be an effective engagement tool.

The majority of consumers in South Africa, Brazil, India, China and Nigeria said they are open to online ads and willing to check out the offers behind them. In Nigeria, 93% of the respondents say they click on banner ads and pop-ups at least sometimes and 70% say they find them useful. Respondents from India (84%) and China (83%) also click on the ads but are less enthusiastic about their usefulness.

In the U.S., only 7% of American respondents say they click on banner and pop-up ads and only 6% say they find them useful or relevant. Most are bothered by them and ignore them.

The impact of social media comments on buying decisions is generally based on both age and country. More than two-thirds of respondents globally who are 35 and younger say they either frequently or occasionally base their buying decisions on what’s being discussed in their social networks. That contrasts to the more than 80% of respondents 65-plus who say they rarely or never base their buying decisions on what’s happening in their social networks.

The report says the differences by country are also “stark.” Between two-thirds and three-quarters of connected consumers in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Japan and South Africa say they rarely or never consider social media chatter when evaluating products, services and brands. Conversely, the majority of connected consumers in China, India, Russia, Brazil and Nigeria either occasionally or frequently use social networks as a basis for making shopping decisions. In China, almost 95% of consumers say they occasionally or frequently use social networks to evaluate products, services or brands.

While the majority of purchases globally are still made in physical stores, 54% of those surveyed say they prefer shopping online. Leading the pack again are consumers from China, where 84% say they prefer to shop online. That’s followed by 64% in Germany and Brazil, 62% in India, 57% in both the U.K. and Nigeria, 52% in the U.S., 34% in Russia, 33% in Japan and 31% in South Africa.

The most popular sources to buy from online are the pure-play retailers such as Amazon. Globally, 84% say they prefer to buy from them if they buy online. Next are the mass merchants, used by 39%; department stores (32%); ticket brokers (30%); airlines and hotels (30%); travel agencies (38%); flash sale sites (28%); specialty stores (24%); and drug stores (18%). In the U.S. the order is pretty much the same.

What are consumers buying online? Globally, the most purchased categories are electronics (77%); fashion and apparel (76%); books (73%); tickets (64%); music and games (62%); home appliances (59%); beauty products (57%); home furnishings (53%); sports and outdoor equipment (52%); toys, kids and babies merchandise (49%); and groceries (45%).

In the U.S., the percentages are: fashion and apparel (87%); electronics (83%); books (82%); tickets (74%); music and games (74%); home furnishings (56%); sports and outdoor equipment (56%); beauty products (50%); toys, kids and babies merchandise (48%); home appliances (46%); and groceries (26%).

The report categorizes connected consumers into four groups: online transactionals (19%); online champions (28%); bricks, no clicks (30%); and social animals (24%).

Online champions buy the widest range of products online and are the heaviest users of smartphones, with social networks having a strong influence on their purchasing. They are most influenced by “likes,” and not click-on banner and pop-up ads. They are described as the digital marketers’ “dream” consumer. They are more prevalent in the developing countries such as Nigeria, Brazil and India. They are least found in Japan. In the U.S. they number about 30% of the respondents to the survey.

Social animals go online to connect with people and enjoy entertainment and surfing the Web and like their smartphones. They mostly shop offline because they like the personal social interaction that in-person shopping provides. They do buy online, but at a lower level than online champions. They are most likely to use the Internet to help evaluate their available options but they mostly ignore online ads. Because they are heavy Web users they are a good group for marketers to target, but a tough one to convince to buy specific products. In the U.S., 21% of the respondents are considered social animals. In China, it’s only 5%.

Transactional consumers don’t spend as much time online but when they do, they are focused on buying. They use their smartphones to make purchases and are somewhat influenced by “likes.” They do click more on ads and do make purchases following their clicks. Because they go online to buy, they are most likely to make a purchase. In the U.S., 22% are identified as transactional consumers.

The bricks, no clicks consumers are less connected and do few things online. They have predetermined preferences for the stores where they shop and use smartphones sparingly. They are not big social participants online, don’t click much on ads and are considered to be the hardest group for online marketers to reach.

Here are some of the conclusions of the report:

The Debate Is Not A Question of Digital vs. Physical.

Successful retailers and brands need to understand how each customer touch point creates value for customers and they need to develop omnichannel strategies to maximize their value. Physical stores still make up 95% of retail sales via brick-and-mortar presences, but it is the final sale that matters. Two-thirds of customers purchasing online say they use a physical store before or after a transaction. So stores must find a way to market to invite both online purchases and in-store purchases.

Personalization Is Not a Cliché Anymore

As consumers become more discerning and over-advertised to, personalization has become a regular part of digital marketing. While each consumer is just one person, he or she expects marketers to keep them personally informed while maintaining their privacy.

The Role of Brands and Retailers Has Changed

The biggest and best companies are building consumer communities, holding conversations with and entertaining and educating their potential customers. Creating value for the consumer is more important than ever and should happen throughout a consumer’s journey, whether in-store or online.

Educating And Storytelling Is A Must

From teaching consumers about their brands to “how-to” videos for cosmetics or food recipes, companies are developing new and interesting content to bring consumers back into the stores or onto their websites. Storytelling and content creation and curation are among the most important business competencies of the future and can create long-lasting customer loyalty.

While the report offers some general conclusions, it also points out that connected consumers are not created equal in that their behaviors and motivations depends on where they get their information and who influences their opinions.

“While they share many similarities across the world, there are profound differences from market to market, based on demographics, infrastructure and social orientation,” the report says.

It will be important for marketers to examine the differences and tailor their targeted campaigns accordingly.