The Internet is all about information (hence the name “the information superhighway”) and when customers choose to shop online they make a carefully scrutinised trade-off with their traditional retail selling expectations. In order to understand that trade-off we first need to look at who your online customers are, and then why the online option is attractive to them. All customers’ needs are different and therefore we also need to break them down into logical online groups …
The first group is comprised of casual browsers (the equivalent of retail ‘window shoppers’). People with time up their sleeves during lunch breaks or sitting quietly at home one evening. Happy to browse entire categories searching for new and interesting products that they may one day find useful, keeping up with their peers on new products, locating suitable presents for family and friends, searching for replacement technology should their existing products fail, and generally increasing their own knowledge of the products available in the marketplace for future purchasing.
The second group, the time traveller (and the easiest to cater to), is the customer who knows what they want, has already sold themselves on the product that they learnt about from a previous visit, or a specialised magazine, the advice of a friend or the manufacturers website and merely needs to locate the product and purchase it. The highest values for your website here are logical category flows, a good search engine, an easy-to-follow registration and basket process and obvious, reassuring customer contact information and guarantees. A mainstream philosophy in central Europe when the Internet first became popular was that all website customers were using their sites for ‘convenience’ shopping in this manner, and consequently there was little or no product information of any kind on their sites. It was not uncommon to see expensive large-screen televisions advertised with no picture, product description, or features – merely the name, model number, and a ‘purchase’ button.
The third and final group is the comparison shopper. Very common on the New Zealand Internet scene, as evidenced by the massive popularity of local auction sites. This customer wants it all – quality information, sophisticated features, best price, product comparisons, easy purchasing, shopping guarantees, and cheap, fast delivery. They will look at multiple online retailer sites and purchase from the one that offers the best presentation, price, or delivery terms. The advantage in capturing this shopper is that their repeat business becomes determined only by market pricing – if they’re happy with your presentation and service they will repeat shop unless your pricing falls behind the opposition. The complexity and time of signing up with multiple registrations on multiple sites, and remembering differing basket flows, works as an incentive to keep them.
Conclusion: 2 of the 3 main groups that are shopping at your site require detailed product information and are actively aware of the levels of information displayed by competitors. Are you selling yourself short and losing business to a better informed website?