The shift in shopping behavior is one that has been evident over the past two decades, but where consumers currently stand on the issue has been less clear. Today customers dictate the shopping experience more than ever before and brands big and small are having to continually meet the needs and expectations of consumers whether online or in-store.

Online vs In-Store Shopping Study

A recent study by Bronto dug into the trends and current differences between online and in-store shopping for millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. They grouped the answers of some 1,000 U.S. consumers into 4 distinct categories based on their answers. The mutually exclusive groups were as follows:

Frequent Both: Frequently shops both online and in-store that are not grocery and/or convenience stores.

Frequent Online: Weekly shops online but not in-store.

Frequent In-Store: Weekly shops in-store but not online.

Frequent Neither: Does not shop online or in-store weekly.

Online vs In-Store Shopping Statistics

Online versus in-store shopping preference demographic dataThe data from the Bronto study definitely came to some surprising conclusions. With ecommerce growing 8-12% per year and online consumer spending predicted by The National Retail Federation to hit $632 billion by 2020. there really isn’t a surprise that many respondents were shopping online. What is a little surprising was just how these groups broke out into percentages. Let’s walk through them.

Frequent Neither Shop Online or In-Store – 43%

The biggest surprise that I found in the data was that 43% of those surveyed indicated that they were a frequent neither. Meaning that the largest segment of the one thousand people surveyed said that they neither shop online nor in store on a weekly basis. I found that to be very counterintuitive to what many of us would have guessed. Based on our friends and connections social media posting, one might assume that this grouping would be the smallest percentage of respondents. This is why data and research is so important. Guessing and using ideas that are gathered in a bubble are often skewed and incorrect.

Frequent Both Shop Online and In-Store – 24%

The second highest group of shoppers were categorized into the “frequent both” grouping. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed said that they shop both online and in-store at least weekly. We would have expected that this would have been the dominant group within the survey, but it wasn’t.

Shop Frequently Online – 17%

Nearly equal with its counterpart, online shoppers fared similarly with those who said that they shopped in-store weekly. In fact, 17% of U.S. consumers stated that they shopped online at least once per week. Was this figure less than you would have guessed? It was far less than we would have suspected, by far!

Shop Frequently In Store – 16%

Anyone who is assuming that in-store brick and mortar retail is dead or even dying, would have it all wrong. The combination of U.S. in-store shoppers and those who shop both in a store AND online equate to 40% of consumers. A full 16% said that they shopped in a store on a weekly basis.

Online vs Brick and Mortar Shopping Analysis

It’s quite interesting that nearly the same number of weekly frequent shoppers prefer to shop online as those who are shopping in-store exclusively. Though not too surprising is the fact that in-store experiences such as touch, smelling and trying things on can only be done in such a way.

Though online purchasing is continually growing, U.S. consumers still dictate that they want real life shopping experiences. This is nothing new, though it might surprise some of us who live and breathe online as a part of the industries with which we are submersed. Having said that, data matters and brands should heed what the study is showing.


It’s hard not take into account the once large iconic American brands that are dropping like flies. Currently we are seeing the demise of K-Mart, Sears and other brands which the media are continually referencing as dinosaurs who did not keep up with technology and the online shopping trends. And a lot of the narrative is true.

However, I would like to offer an alternative view on this situation. For many of brands like Toys R Us and Sears, it also had to do with a business, product and service model that was also flawed in today’s world. Not stocking the right products, not offering the shopping experience that consumers demand and ALSO not having a proper connected online platform to support the evolved customer purchase journey also contributed to their demise. Possibly more so.

Small, local, regional and medium size retail brands should take some key insights from this recent study to plan for their future. Consumers still really enjoy immediate gratification and the tactile experiences that come with shopping in a store. They demand a multi-platform experience that allows them to research online and buy wherever they choose.

The battle for dominance between online versus in store shopping will no doubt continue, but it is data and conclusions that are contained in comprehensive studies like this one that should drive the continual change and evolution of each brands business model. Know your customer and their shopping patterns and preferences, then cater them to create loyalty and repeat business. It’s really that simple.