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US retail ecommerce will continue its torrid growth in 2014, with sales forecast to rise 15.5% to $304.1 billion. Although ecommerce sales will account for just 6.4% of the $4.73 trillion in total US retail sales expected this year, their true impact will be much bigger, according to a new eMarketer report, “US Retail Ecommerce: 2014 Trends and Forecast.”
Sales alone do not tell the whole story of US retail ecommerce. Consumers may not buy online all the time, but they are shopping through digital channels constantly. Of the 219.4 million internet users in the US ages 14 and older, eMarketer expects 196.6 million, or 89.6%, to shop online this year, compared with 163.2 million who will go on to complete a purchase digitally.
As the difference between those figures makes plain, digital shopping doesn’t always lead to an immediate conversion. Retail executives, however, say it does translate to influence throughout the path to purchase.
The influence works both ways. According to a November 2013 survey of US digital shoppers by consulting firm Accenture, 78% of respondents reported “webrooming,” or researching online before heading to a store to make a purchase. At the same time, some store trips eventually led to a digital purchase. The same Accenture study found that 72% of respondents “showroomed,” or bought digitally after seeing a product in a store. Consumers, then, have merged online and offline into a single shopping experience.
Retailers often lag behind consumers when it comes to blending the offline and online shopping experiences, but they are working to catch up. “The majority of stores are just learning how to [sell] online,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group. “However, once they figure that out, the next step is how do they take the online and meld it in with the store experience to enhance them both.”
Ecommerce and digital marketing teams increasingly understand that they need to drive sales in a channel-agnostic way. Scott Falzone, industry director of retail specialty at Google, noted that particularly among multichannel retailers, “their interest in digital is increasingly focused on driving customers and shoppers into their store locations as well as continuing to have a growing ecommerce and mobile commerce presence.”
Gihad Jawhar, vice president of customer interface at Lowe’s, exemplified this approach: “I truly don’t care if shoppers end up buying online or in-store.”
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