TORONTO: A majority of North American consumers prefer buying products in-store to doing so online, a study has revealed.

Empathica, the customer service advisory firm, surveyed nearly 11,000 people in America and Canada to gain an insight into current attitudes and behaviours.

Overall, 42.7% of panellists believed that their financial situation will improve in the first half of 2011.

When the same question was asked in 2010, just 33.8% agreed.

Moreover, 15% of interviewees heightened their expenditure levels last year, a substantial uptick on the 6% score registered in the prior round of research.

"While showing signs of increased optimism, consumers are still relatively sceptical about the economic outlook and their own spending intentions," said Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica.

"Coupons, special promotions and incentives continue to be helpful in fuelling consumer spending moving forward. Just because more consumers intend to spend, doesn't mean that frugality is over."

Gaps emerged by gender, as roughly 10% of men had "significantly" raised their outlay, falling to 3.9% among women.

Elsewhere, 60% of females trimmed their expenses last year, when only 47% of males followed the same route.

By geography, 67.2% of the American sample cut household budgets during this period, measured against 43.5% of Canadians.

Turning to purchase habits, 21% of respondents agreed in-store experiences are typically better than the online equivalent, 15% took the opposite stance, and 36% stated these channels were evenly matched.

Despite this, 69% favoured making most acquisitions in bricks and mortar outlets, while 22% afforded the web a parallel status.

One digital activity that has proved especially popular is using comparison sites, as 72% of contributors have utilised the net to conduct research, monitor prices and complete transactions.

An equal percentage had considered the merits of competing items via the internet before obtaining the appropriate brand in a shop.

"In most instances, online recommendations coming straight from other consumers can make a world of difference," said Edwards.

"It's no doubt becoming critical for brands to develop a relationship with consumers online, and offering satisfied customers an outlet to express their confidence in and enthusiasm for a brand."

Data sourced from Empathica; additional content by Warc staff