SINGAPORE: Online and mobile search are playing an increasingly important role in the purchase process among consumers from Asia Pacific.

In a study, iProspect, Aevolve and Toluna surveyed 15,000 people in 11 markets, including Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Overall, 77% of the sample utilised search engines several times a day, while 71% said their reliance on these services has risen during the last six months.

Usage levels peaked at 86% for Thailand, 85% for China and over 80% in India, Japan and South Korea, measured against only 53% in Australia.

Growth rates hit 92% in India, 81% in Malaysia, 78% in Singapore and 77% in China, and iProspect suggested netizens' online behaviour was consistent with US behaviour at a similar stage in the nation's digital development.

By contrast, the pace of expansion dropped to 48% in Japan, 55% in South Korea and 57% in Australia, the area's most mature markets.

News attracted the highest interest on 78%, beating images on 65% and video on 57%.

Maps and other location-based material also proved of particular appeal in Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan.

Some 51% of contributors accessed Google with the greatest regularity, climbing to 89% in India and New Zealand but declining to 9% regarding South Korea.

Baidu boasted a 68% share in China, Naver dominated South Korean habits on 70%, and Yahoo held sway in Hong Kong on 73% and Taiwan on 65%, and matched Google 49% in Japan.

More broadly, the report argued Bing, Microsoft's "decision engine", has struggled to gain a meaningful foothold in Asia thus far.

Word of mouth was the most widely-mentioned form of communications which encouraged consumers to enter search queries on 57%, followed by TV ads' 56%, print advertising's 55% and internet display's 50%.

Panellists in the 15-24 year old age range were especially influenced by WOM and TV ads, while social media has also enhanced its position.

However, television spots actually exerted the strongest impact in three markets - Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

During the purchase process, 66% of participants searched the web when buying computers and electronics products, bettering entertainment's 60%, food and drink's 53% and banking and finance's 50%.

Health and beauty posted 48%, telecoms delivered 44%, automotive registered 39%, although household goods scored just 32%.

Elsewhere, 58% of respondents stated they could "not distinguish" between paid and organic listings.

Among those who were able to separate the two categories, 63% agreed sponsored results boosted brand awareness, falling to 62% for natural listings.

A further majority believed the top organic links improved their affinity and likelihood to acquire a specific brand, dropping below 50% relating to paid search.

Turning to mobile, 79% of interviewees reported having used search services via wireless handsets in the last year.

Within this group 50% said these tools were becoming essential to navigate through the available material.

China reached 93% in terms of uptake, Thailand generated 91%, India recorded 90% and South Korea yielded 88%, but penetration slipped to 39% for Australia and New Zealand.

"This research clearly highlights the role search plays in the path to purchase, confirming that integration between media, search and online is vital," said Peter Hunter, ceo, iProspect Asia Pacific.

Data sourced from iProspect; additional content by Warc staff