To understand the constantly evolving e-commerce landscape it is of great value to collect information and opinions from; shoppers, business owners and senior management. By doing this we can obtain a clear and current view of what is happening and where e-commerce is going. A recent survey of American e-shoppers spanned; age groups, geography, and frequency of online shopping. It reveals their attitudes, beliefs, reasoning, and decision making factors as they pertain to online shopping.
So what does the survey tell us about our online customers?
#1 – Online vs. Brick-and-Mortar
Customers consider several factors when choosing online shopping over brick-and-mortar stores.
Convenience is the primary reason people go to an e-commerce site rather than a store. The time and possible frustration of driving to the store, finding a parking spot, waiting in line, and getting back home again deters many. There may be “shop-til-you-drop” enthusiasts out there who are motivated by the “shopping experience,” but many prefer to avoid the traditional hassles.
Of course, if the hassles associated with an e-commerce site are worse than the traditional hassles, we can expect customers to reverse their decision quickly. If the site is too slow, difficult to navigate, or full of distractions, some users will go back to the stores, or, worse yet, to the easier-to-use website offered by the competition.
Price and availability were identified as the second and third most important reasons customers go online. This is based on perception rather than reality. The belief that online retailers have lower prices and in-stock inventory may not be rooted in fact.
However, perception is reality in marketing. If the users believe it, then your website can benefit from it. However, if you shatter their illusions by backordering items or offering lower prices in the store, your online customers may react negatively, perhaps strongly so.
The website’s speed was identified as a factor by 40.1% of the respondents. This number is a little lower than what some people would have expected. However, it makes sense. The website’s speed may not be a big factor in attracting customers, but it may still be a big factor in driving them away. More on this below.
We should note that the same person will choose e-shopping for some purchases and brick-and-mortar shopping for others. Some products are not conveniently distributed through online channels (e.g., a holiday puppy), while others demand a “touch-me” shopping experience (e.g. shoes). This distinction is not explored by this survey.
#2 – Selecting an E-Commerce Site
Having selected e-shopping over brick-and-mortar shopping, the customer must now select one of the several vendors who sell the product he is looking for. One question in the study asked users what factors they consider when making this selection.
Six in seven identify price as a factor in this decision, with only minor variations by age, location, or e-shopping activity.
Reputation is next in line with 64% of the respondents identifying it as a factor. There is a marked difference between the most active and least active e-shoppers here. It seems that people rely on reputation more if they put in more hours e-shopping.
Reputation and price have been considerations since long before computers existed. It seems that these cornerstones have not gone the way of the dinosaur.
#3 – How Loyal/Fickle Are Your Customers?
Will your e-shoppers go to your competitors if the competitor has a faster website with a better user experience? 73.9% say they will. Of those who spend more than an hour a week shopping online, that number jumps to over 80%.
This result is slightly less pronounced in the older age groups, but even 62% of the older-than-55’s say they will jump ship if they find a nicer ship. The difference in numbers may be due to a cultural difference between the age groups – loyalty is perceived to be a desirable trait more so in older people than in younger. However, it can be because of other, unidentified factors, too.
Especially if our target market is the younger crowd, we must provide a #1 user experience if we want to be #1 in the online marketplace.
There are no significant regional differences in these results.
#4 – Page Load Times
People think they are so-o-o patient. The median person in this study thinks he’s willing to wait about 22 seconds for a web page to load before going to a competitor. Active users and less frequent users give approximately the same answer to this question.
The older generations see themselves as more patient than the younger generations by 8 seconds. This is another indication of the loyalty offered by this age group.
These results are quite different from other studies because they indicate that end-users are a very patient lot. The current mantra in the web development community is “every page loads in under 2 seconds or we drive our customers away,” which is based on a good body of research.
We need to treat these results with a grain of salt. Questionnaire respondents are notorious in statistical history for presenting themselves in a favourable light. They may say they’re willing to wait 22 seconds, but there is evidence elsewhere to suggest they will wait only 2 seconds.
Google was surprised by similar findings in 2006. Their questionnaire asked users whether they wanted more, fewer, or the same number of hits listed on the results pages. Users gave them the clear go-ahead to increase the number of hits from 10 to 30, but when they did, traffic and revenue both dropped by 20%. The extra ½ second of load time was just not acceptable to the users, the same users who said it would be okay.
E-shoppers may not be the best source of information about their own behaviour.
What brings people to a shopping site is different from what drives them away. Traditional business principles have not fallen by the wayside. Low price, product availability, and a feel-good shopping experience are just as important for e-commerce sites as they have always been in brick-and-mortar stores.
A good user experience on a high-speed web site is a winning combination. Coupled with traditional customer service principles, this is a sure-fire way to retain customers.
Load every web page in under two seconds or turn your customers over to your competitors!