Selling Online – Bringing it Back to Basics

In this week’s blogs, i3 Digital examines the differences between online and traditional shopping, and the customer experiences that businesses need to consider.

Firstly, it’s imperative to appreciate how the purchasing journeys of buyers differentiate online and offline. In the traditional shopping arena, consumers are faced (subconsciously and obviously) with a plethora of signals contributing towards their purchasing decisions. They walk into a shop or store and physically touch and feel the items they’re considering buying. They talk to people (shop assistants, accompanying friends/family, other shoppers), to help make a final decision, and meander around a store or shopping area to consider further, if desired.

Online, of course, shoppers have none of this physicality, and the consumer experience is limited to a two-dimension world. Shoppers peruse at flat screens (PC’s, laptops, tablets or smartphones), make a decision, and move on. They of course still “talk” to others online, but social proof tends to come from reviews and star-ratings online, compared to shopping partners in the offline world.

To compete, online retailers and businesses must therefore consider all the touch-points and factors that shoppers experience in the high-street, but not whilst browsing on their sofa! It doesn’t take a marketing expert to recognise the huge physical differences between online and offline shopping. Factors like playing music, purchase-inducing aromas, sales executives, and ‘buying’ atmospheres all contribute to creating the unique experience of traditional, in-store shopping. The key thing for online retailers is to consider what they can do to create their own shopping experience, and how the process can be more enjoyable and rewarding for e-customers.

To do this, we have to go right back to basics and consider why customers shop online in the first place. The simple answer is that they actively don’t want the inconvenience of leaving the house, driving into a busy town centre, parking, paying for parking, possibly getting soaked, buying a product, and arriving home only to realise they’ve missed the latest episode of Luther because town was that damn busy! Customers buy online to avoid this monstrosity of hassle and inconvenience. They want to buy quickly, log out, and move on – a fundamentally different purchasing journey to that mentioned above! Therefore, online businesses have got to provide exactly this…an experience that is 100% convenient and customer friendly!

But how do online retailers and e-commerce businesses go about ensuring their website provides exactly that? Our next blog article will go into much more detail, but the key element is that they must fully understand their customers – their needs, their reasons for purchasing, and about as much else about them as they can. Traditional retailers have perhaps not needed this as much over the years, or have certainly got away with it more than e-commerce retailers can nowadays.

This is because traditional, high-street shoppers visit town centres or shopping complexes. Once they’ve arrived, they don’t really move too far from that general vicinity because it’s inconvenient to do so and they really can’t be bothered travelling to another area. However, the total opposite is true online, where consumers can buy products as easily from a business in Rio as one in Rathfriland, or from a supplier in Madrid as effortlessly and quickly as one in Moira!

Online, it’s all too convenient to click away from one business, and immediately go somewhere totally different. Geographic boundaries simply don’t exist online, and customers can literally travel and buy from retailers around the world in a second. Whereas high street businesses compete with other stores in their area, online businesses compete (and benefit) globally.

Because it’s just so convenient, online customers are quite happy to move around. As such, there’s a much larger requirement for online businesses to really understand their customers. Traditional “shop” retailers haven’t needed to fully understand what makes their customers tick because the physical hassle involved in travelling to other shopping vicinities has, to a certain extent, allowed them to win their custom anyway. Of course, small local butchers and independent shops are often known for their superb customer service on an individual level, but these are within the vast minority. Large retailers can’t get as close to their customers as small shop owners, and online retailers are obviously even further away from theirs. To combat this, it’s essential that online retailers and e-commerce businesses communicate individually with customers in the real world, and our next blog will discuss the “how to” element in much more detail.

Before the internet, information was broadcast and largely accepted by consumers, as media platforms were one of the only places to source buyer information. We tended to trust brands that we heard about on the radio, in newspapers, and on TV because we associated them with success, status, and quality. The internet has changed everything, and communicating with customers is freely available to every single brand that wishes to do so. Consumers are now much more sceptical of traditional advertising methods, and successful brand promotion is no longer a case of shouting at your customers (which is essentially what used to work), but conversing with them.

It’s now absolutely crucial that online retailers talk with their customers, understand them, and get to know them. Asking the right questions and analysing responses gives your customers the opportunity to tell you what they want online, and how they expect their shopping experiences and processes to be delivered. From then on, it’s up to you to provide exactly that!

Keep an eye for our next instalment, detailing the methods used to fully grasp your customer and ensure your e-commerce strategy is tailored for your target marketplace, both locally and globally!

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