Katie Geraty is the vice president/director of planning and strategy for The Integer Group, a market research company headquartered in Denver and operating internationally. Integer recently published a study called “The Complex Shopper,” which looks at the motivations that drive home improvement customers.

Remodeling: The Integer Group interviewed 1,600 people for this study of how people buy high-ticket home improvements. How did you select the respondents?

Katie Geraty: The respondents were people who had made a purchase decision in the last six months or [who planned to make one] in the next six months.

RM: And your aim was to find out what drove them to make these decisions when they did?

KG: For one thing, we wanted to find out what degree of consideration went into making a big-ticket home improvement purchase. We broke it out on a five-point scale ranging from “a great deal” of consideration to none at all.

RM: Does a lot more consideration go into buying an exterior door than, say, a new washing machine?

KG: Buyers of major appliances are often in crisis mode. They’ll replace that broken appliance in a day, whatever the price. With doors and windows, it can take up to two years-plus to pull the trigger.

Self-Opinion: Who Are You?

RM: Doesn’t the amount of consideration also have to do with what you call, in this study, “badge value”?

KG: Sometimes. Badge value is where the project reflects your self-opinion. That expensive refrigerator stands for who you believe you are. It often applies when homeowners give the project their greatest consideration. Some consumer segments consider [badge value] when making a buying decision. Some couldn’t care less.

RM: Whether they’re dreading the project or raring to go, isn’t there always anxiety?

KG: They’re driven by fear of making a mistake; it’s not even so much that they don’t want to spend the money. Confidence was such a key factor in making the purchase decision. And in doors and windows, the emotional piece is as big as the logical one. They want good value and a good price, but they also want to feel confident in the decision, and they look for expertise in the salesperson or contractor to help them get there. It’s not like buying an appliance or a vacation. In describing what they’re feeling, or felt, about buying doors and windows, [survey respondents] used words like “frustrated,” “fearful,” even “angry.”

Researching Online

RM: Don’t door and window shoppers tend to do a lot more online research?

KG: Those shopping for windows and doors tended to visit home shows and model homes. They also tended to spend a lot of time online doing research. Initially, they didn’t look as much for an expert. They trusted their intuition more.

RM: Where do they go in their research?

KG: People start with retail websites such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot — stores that have a selection. When they get to a more serious place in their online research, they’ll go to a showroom. They tend to visit a store or showroom in research mode, as opposed to active buying mode. They’re there to touch and feel the product and understand it. My instincts tell me there’s a much more deliberate shopping process for windows and doors than there would be for flooring or major appliances. People are comfortable making a decision about a dishwasher without touching or feeling it. Of course a lot of this depends on their shopping profile.

Ready, Set … Buy?

RM: When they do buy, why do they buy?

KG: Financial readiness is a huge driver for a window purchase: when [consumers] feel like they have the wherewithal to do it — and to pay for it. That purchase is in competition with purchases that have a little more glamour and appeal, like a vacation or a shiny appliance that everyone sees.

RM: Did you find a lot of brand loyalty in windows and doors?

KG: There’s less brand loyalty than we expected. And people who do have an affinity … it’s all over the place. There are those loyal to a manufacturer’s brand, those who are loyal to a retail store, and those who are loyal to their guy — the contractor who worked on their home.

RM: Do you anticipate that there could be a point in time when people are buying doors and windows online?

KG: The window category is difficult because it is so fragmented. Only 6% to 7% of the population is in the market for windows and doors at any given point in time. And it’s hard to make an apples-to-apples [product] comparison online. Right now the majority of the population isn’t comfortable doing that. They still need an expert opinion on this purchase.

Read more about big-ticket purchase decisions here.