By Dr Morten Boyer, GfK Australia

SYDNEY, NSW: GfK research shows that despite the best marketing laid plans and advertising campaigns, the retail store really is the ‘last three feet’ with a majority of customers only deciding on the brand they will buy once in the store.

When consumers are shopping for technology products, retailers have always played a critical part in the buying process.

Over the past 5 years, GfK ConsumerScope data has found, consistently, that floor staff, in-store displays, and retailer catalogues are used to gather information by most technology consumers. But to what extent can retailers actually influence the final decision? Furthermore, if you thought you knew what you were going to buy before walking in, how often is the retail experience powerful enough to change your mind?

In a big-ticket, high-involvement category such as flat panel TVs, consumers tend to really do their homework before buying, with very few spontaneous purchases reported.

According to recent GfK ConsumerScope data, consumers are researching their purchases so thoroughly that nearly half (46 per cent) of flat panel TV consumers have already decided on the brand of TV they want, before visiting their retail store. These decisions are often made based on word-of mouth and professional reviews.

Furthermore, the people who have chosen their TV brand pre-store are very difficult to switch, with only 14 per cent of those who knew what they wanted pre-store, going on to being switched in-store.

There are, however, some demographic segments which appear to be more prone to in-store brand-switching. Males tend to report higher rates of in-store switching, as do younger people, whereas socio-demographic status has little bearing. It is also worth noting, that some retailers and TV brands achieve higher switching rates than others.

The overall implication is that although many consumers are seemingly finalising their decisions pre-store, things are not always set in stone. What should also not be forgotten is that, despite the availability of online information and social networking, over half the market (54 per cent) has not yet homed in on a TV brand when they walk into a retail store.