In the market for a new dishwasher, flat-screen TV, riding mower, or couch?  According to newly released consumer research from GE Capital Retail Bank’s Second Annual Major Purchase Shopper Study, the “path to purchase” begins online.

RTi (Rothstein Tauber Inc.) conducted the consumer survey and interviews, which explored the shopping habits of 3,200 consumers nationwide who had recently made purchases of $500 or more and were in the market for major items in 12 segments, including: appliances, electronics, flooring, home furnishings and bedding, home improvements, jewelry, eyewear, power sports products, and lawn and garden equipment.

Results from the consumer survey show the linkage between the online and in-person experience. Sixty percent of consumers start by visiting a search engine, then go to the retailer’s website, and ultimately, 88% made their final purchase in store. The survey was also insightful about the significant role that financing plays in the shopper’s choice of a retailer: Nearly 50% of all shoppers researched payment options before visiting a store.

So what does this all mean in terms of marketing action items? Well, certainly having an effective web and digital presence is the key to grabbing consumers early in the shopping process, and then effective sales training, as well as loyalty and customer satisfaction programs, to help clinch the sale. And then the sales cycle begins again, because those satisfied, loyal customers – they are not only essential to repeat sales, but to online reviews and referrals.