London: Before buying a product, consumers are often likely to search and review online hundreds of available items in any category for up to a month.
However, what they purchase tends to be remarkably close to the items they searched and found in their very first search, says a study.
"Consumers don't explore anywhere close to full range of products and attributes in the category. The final product they purchase is very close in terms of the attributes to the products they discovered on the first day," said Bart Bronnenberg of Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
The study finds that about 25 per cent of consumers search and purchase in just one online session.
The average purchase takes much longer -- around 15 days and over six sessions. The vast majority of purchases happen in under a month.
Further, about 40 per cent of consumers search only one brand and 20 per cent only one model, while the average consumer will search about three brands and six models.
"People differ in their search behaviour a lot. Some make up their mind right away but others search for long periods - often up to a month and review many products," added Carl Mela of Duke University in North Carolina, US.
This suggests that consumers have a rough idea of the quality and type of features they want as they begin search.
The search helps them merely to refine the right combination of features within the narrow range of features of the products they found on the first day.
For marketers, a long period of search can be a great opportunity to influence the exploration and discovery of new products during search and purchase.
"The fact that what people buy is close to what they initially found means that the advertising targeting and product recommendations can use this information effectively and recommend close variants of what the consumer initially searched and found," explained Jun Kim of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The study focussed on online search and purchase behaviour of consumers in the digital camera category.
The team combined detailed consumer online browsing and purchase data for digital cameras from the online measurement firm comScore, with scraped camera product pages from the three largest online retailers - Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart - to uncover a variety of insights about online consumer search behaviour.
They used a sample of more than 1,000 digital camera purchases with full browsing histories over a three-month period.
The article is forthcoming in the journal Marketing Science.