Many business organizations today have opted to establish their online presence by setting up websites and doing some sort of online communications such as email marketing and social media activities. But it’s still a question as to whether these business organizations have made any proactive effort to understand these online customers and their expectations properly. Many marketers who become successful with their traditional offline marketing approaches have failed to understand the importance of treating their online customers differently to their offline customers.
The fact that you already have a segment of customers who come online and spend time on your web sites, make sales enquiries via emails, request products to be purchased online, itself is a good reason for you to understand the need of a new/different approach to satisfy these customers’ needs. This alone can be a good starting point for you to initiate a whole new business strategy which will open up a unique business avenue and it can take your business to the next level.
The rest of this article will mainly focus on identifying the differences in the expectations and behaviours of online customers when compared with offline customers, and also to identify the business implications of such differences.
Online customers do not necessarily look for “Products”. They mainly look for ‘Choices”. They need solutions to their problems, and these problems are, most of the time, represented by the words and phrases they use (search) on search engines such as Google, Yahoo. Unlike offline customers, your online customers have the ability and facilities to evaluate the choices they are presented with, within a very short period of time. A customer who is browsing your website may be at the same time evaluating another similar offering of your competitor on another browser. The speed of the delivery of your solutions, how well you have presented your solutions on the web page, and how effectively you have anticipated his next problem(s), altogether will determine your success in converting your visitor in to a customer. For example, your offline walk-in customer may ask for another item/brand/size if he is not happy with what your sales assistant offered originally and may be willing to wait even 10 minutes till he brings another alternative. But you may not expect your online customers to do the same as the other website he visited may have offered multiple options in a more convincing style, for example by showing product X, Y & Z which were the alternatives evaluated by the other customers who originally searched for the same products which are searching now.
Online customers are not just looking at the price you have quoted on the website. In addition to the price which is the direct “monetary cost”, your online customer are equally concerned about all other cost elements associated with the online buying process, namely time cost, energy cost and psychic cost. While you need to provide enough information about your pricing, such as the currency used to charge the credit card, any cost associated with the your payment methods such as card handling fee, alternative payment options such as debit cards, paypal, direct money transfer etc, information related to cancellation and refund policies should also be clearly mentioned as all these facts add up to the “psychic cots’ of your customer. In addition to these, your privacy policies covering the measures implemented in the areas of handling, transferring and storing of customer personal information such as name, email, credit card information, mobile numbers etc and the security of your payments methods, reliability of your delivery process are also playing a vital role in minimizing the psychic cost of your customers.
Marketers in today’s digital age are challenged by the trends such as attention scarcity, time poverty and information overload. Under these conditions, no marketers can expect their online customers to wait 20-30 seconds till your webpage is fully loaded. In other words increase of every millisecond in your website response time will add up to the ‘time cost” of your customers, even though their monetary cost remains the same. Many reputed online research firms originally reported this site loading tolerance time to range from 5 – 10 seconds, but today with the popularity of broadband connectivity, this threshold has surprisingly come down to 2-5 seconds range. As reported by many of these research firms, the number one reason for abandoning website has been this slowness in page loading time.
The other aspect of the “time cost” of using a website is the “energy cost”. Every user action on a website has an associated energy cost to the user. By increasing the number of clicks to the desired action, you are directly (but may be unintentionally) increasing your customers energy cost of accessing your website. Requiring form filling, user registration and logging in before completing a transaction, creating website clutter with pop ups and too many call to actions in the form of action oriented links/buttons are the common usability barriers that make the whole web browsing experience a frustrating one. Process improvements, using third party authentication systems (e.g. Facebook connect), auto form filling, auto login etc are some of the obvious measures that can help your users save their energy while browsing your website, thereby reduce the overall cost of the customers.
Convenience is one of the top most reasons as to why users come online to make transactions and/or to make sales enquiries. The real meaning of “convenience” in marketing is established by the “accessibility to the service” which is made easy with the Internet. However, setting up a website, with or without the online transaction capability, is just a half completed task in terms of providing accessibility to the service. Users may access your website with multiple browsers (E.g. IE, Firefox), browser versions (IE7, IE8), and mobile devices. Marketers need to make sure that their service is accessible via all these channels. They can go beyond these capabilities and innovate further by initiating desktop and/or browser widgets, gadgets and apps which come in very handy especially with the tech savvy users of the modern age.
In eMarketing it has become very difficult to draw a clear line between communication and distributions as many channels provide both service distribution and communication functions equally and effectively. While search engine advertising, search engine optimization, email advertising still continue as the traditional channels for driving visitors to a website, developments in the Web 2.0 arena has dramatically changed the way the companies are expected to communicate with its customers. The era of customer communication where the marketers had the luxury of deciding what and how to communicate is almost behind us and it has now evolved into a state of participative communication where customers have a greater influential power than ever before. This situation demands a more active, genuine and transparent communications, not just from the marketing. PR or customer support staff, but from the entire company and its staff because it requires more engagement, visibility and the capability to deal with the community. The impact (either positive or negative) is, however, going to create a magnified effect due to viral nature of these channels and messages.
If you are still reading this article one thing must be very clear and convinced to you. Catering your product/service offering to the needs of your online customers is not just as easy as setting up a website. It is indeed adding many complexities to your traditional way of doing business. Do you need more time to make a decision? But there is no any room for further decision making. Because the decision comes as the end result of evaluating options. But online marketing is not an option. It is a must!
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