Back in the “olden days” the consumer purchase journey was pretty cut and dried. You went to a local brick and mortar store, shopped the brands and their respective assortments on the shelves and made a purchase. If you didn’t see what you were looking for, you drove to or called other stores until you found it. Competitive brands “differentiated” their products through shelf placement, pricing strategies and point of purchase materials. National TV ads, print ads, newspapers and circulars also educated consumers about product choices and available brands. Word of mouth recommendations from family and friends were the key trusted sources of product reviews. Special order catalogs were also in circulation and presented additional options for product purchases.
The arrival of the internet in mid-1990s led to fundamental changes in how consumers research, shop, purchase and perceive brands. The wealth of information now available online empowers consumers to do their product research online whenever they want, comparing brands and their respective product assortments, features, pricing, and even leave reviews.
The internet also provides a ton of new consumer data that gives brands insight into what consumers like or not about their products, as well as competitive products. This enables brands to increase product awareness, reach new segments of consumers, better understand competitive assortments and messaging, and communicate directly with prospective and current customers.
In 1995, Amazon.com and eBay launched their ecommerce platform and by 2000 online sales totaled $27.6B, 0.9% of total retail sales. Fast forward just 25 years and online retail sales are projected to reach a whopping $794B by the end of 2020, 14.4% of total retail sales, a 32.4% year-over-year increase.
eMarketer, October 2020
The COVID pandemic has accelerated this shift to online purchasing, forcing consumers to adopt new “contactless” shopping habits. However now that more consumers have sampled the convenience of purchasing online and picking up curbside, in-stores or direct shipped to their homes, many may be reluctant to return to pre-pandemic shopping behavior.
What customers want from online retailers
Today nearly all businesses, regardless of size, can have an online presence. Consumers have endless options for online shopping and have become accustomed to shopping whenever and wherever they’d like. With so many product options so readily available, how do consumers determine which product(s) to purchase and what brands to trust? On the flip side, with all of choices available to the 227M Americans who shop online, how do brands attract, engage and retain these shoppers?
When making online purchases, customers’ key considerations are price, accurate product descriptions and imagery, product availability (is the product in-stock), ease of product discovery, free convenient delivery and strong customer service.
Successful retailers must respond in kind and give their customers what they want. Here are a few tips:
- Know your audience. Track your engagement metrics from day one and modify your strategy as needed.
- Provide consistent messaging across all channels to improve brand perception. Optimize your website with detailed product descriptions, images and any other information that will make your customer’s purchase decision easier.
- If you have both an online store and a physical location, choose a software program that will integrate inventory with both locations.
How brands can reach online shoppers
In 2019 and prior to the pandemic, 81% of U.S. shoppers researched their products online before purchasing, spending an average of 79 days gathering information to validate their purchase decision. Amazon was already the lead online resource. More recent tracking of purchases during pandemic times indicates a continuing rise in Amazon's dominance. Today 83% of U.S. online shoppers start their product search on Amazon, while globally, 63% of shoppers do so. Other top search resources worldwide include: search engines (primarily Google) 48%, retailer sites 33%, other marketplaces 28% as well as brand websites 21%. Consequently, brands that are looking to engage potential customers must do so via 3rd party entities, as opposed to their own sites.
Wunderman Thompson Commerce, May 2020
Fortunately, your brand can leverage extensive online visitor data to learn how customers find your products and interact with your brand online. For example, do they shop mostly from mobile devices or desktops? Then leverage your brand reach to help shoppers discover your brand even more easily. You might retarget visitors with relevant ads and sponsored social posts after they have been browsing your website.
Take advantage of new technologies, such as chat bots, voice activated devices, virtual reality or 3D product visuals, to engage with shoppers and create efficiencies in core business processes. 28% of shoppers use mobile apps to research products. Apps such as Amazon Shopping, ShopSaavy Barcode and QR Scanner, Price.com, Ali Reviews and a variety of apps available through Shopify enable consumers to research product prices, features and reviews before purchase.
Influencers and online reviews are the new word of mouth
Just as a recommendation from a trusted friend may have influenced your purchase decision before, today’s consumers are more willing to try new products that have four- and five-star ratings from other buyers.
According to Global Web Index’s Social Media Marketing in 2020 report, 49% of consumers depend upon recommendations from social media influencers when making their purchase decisions. This provides an enormous opportunity for brands to connect with their target audiences via influencers and brand advocates.
Find out what online communities, forums and blogs your customers frequent. Identify the key influencers in your market and reach out to them to advocate for your brand by creating sponsored posts showing your product in use and writing product reviews.
Word of mouth recommendations from friends and family and independent consumer reviews heavily influence all consumer types and have the strongest impact on how consumers make purchasing decisions. 89% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase and 36% check consumer reviews when shopping on Amazon.com. These sources are considered the most trustworthy.
Ask your customers for a review after they have purchased your products (or after every successful project or service), after they have tagged your brand in a social post, when they repurchase or if they have been spending time browsing your website. Include a link to the page where they can write their review. Offer different options for where they can leave a review, such as Yelp, Facebook, Google, Amazon, BBB, etc.
Optimize your website with badges to easily direct visitors to read and leave reviews on these sites. Be respectful of your customers' time and let them know how long it will likely take them to leave a review. Offer an incentive, such as a discount code, contest entry, or gift card, in exchange for their review. Respond to your customers’ reviews, even negative ones. For negative reviews respond considerately and offer a resolution. Share positive customer reviews on your social channels and other review sites.
Consumers have endless options for online product discovery, research and shopping. Heinzeroth Marketing Group can help your brand create a cross-channel brand experience that produces positive word of mouth marketing, increases brand awareness and reach, improves customer satisfaction and loyalty.