15 Aug Nowhere to hide: buyer behavior in a connected world
Window shopping isn’t dead, it has simply moved into a different dimension. This is a dimension where your business has “nowhere to hide” or can be “completely hidden” given the power of the Internet.
Your business, be it a manufacturer, supplier or retailer needs to understand the changing nature of buyer behavior facilitated by the Internet. Whether buying through a virtual, real or multi-channel storefront, the options consumers use to learn about products, compare products, or shop prices have multiplied exponentially. The greater transparency created by these tools has made it critical that you understand and incorporate them into your business and marketing plans.
Before the days of the Internet, buyer behavior often focused on word of mouth recommendations and feedback; in-store questioning; listening to, watching or reviewing ads; or reading print reviews in vertical publications or from multi-line authorities like Consumer’s Report. Today, the options for information search and product comparisons have multiplied beyond consumer’s processing ability. While this creates an opportunity for high service marketers with high touch products it has also generated the need to understand how consumers are behaving in their product purchasing activities.
Consumers are continuing to look for ways to stretch their dollar while getting the best quality product that satisfies their needs. This has led them into “brick and mortar” stores like Costco, Wal-Mart, Aldi and Trader Joes to buy their food and staples; but it has also led them online for more complex purchases.
So what online tools are they using in their product search and evaluation? Starting with search engines, consumers are seeking out solutions to meet their needs. For the retailer this means that the tools of search engine optimization and search engine marketing need to be part of your media buy. If they can’t find you, you won’t make the sale.
It also means that you need to stay on top of negative stories in blogs or other online publications that could be the first thing people find when searching for your business or product, as even some large marketers have found to their chagrin. Monitoring and responding to these negative stories needs to be part of your marketing tactics.
Other tools that consumers are using in their search behavior include shopping bots (online price comparison sites), online reviews, online video, product specifications, photos, coupon sites, blog postings and online chat. Let’s look at some of these in a bit more depth.
For price sensitive purchases, consumers are identifying products they want or need, often through in-store visits, Internet searches or other traditional methods prior to visiting shopping bots or comparison shopping sites like Google Product Search (formerly Froogle) MySimon, Price Grabber, Price Runner, Shopping or Shopzilla. These sites serve as shopping portals that aggregate product search results and compare prices and link to product listings from a wide range of retailers.
Not only do these comparison sites give consumers quick access to retail prices for the product they’re searching for, they often provide access to peer reviews from other consumers who have purchased the product. According to an eMarketer’s report, a recently completed Opinion Research Corporation study found that “a full 61% of respondents said that they had checked online reviews, blogs and other online customer feedback before buying a new product or service.”
eMarketer also reported on another study finding that 46% of online buyers looked at 4 – 6 reviews before buying a product. Consumers are finding these reviews at the retailer’s sites, at the shopping comparison sites, on blogs, at vertical portals and through aggregator sites that pull together consumer reviews like Buzzillions, ConsumerSearch.com and ePinions.
Among the other tools that consumers are using in their shopping activities are watching product videos. They are visiting retail and manufacturing sites to see products in use, are viewing videos when visiting content sites that publish product reviews like CNET (for electronics) or Edmunds (for autos) or visiting review video web sites like Expotv.com.
Coupons clipped offline or downloaded from online sites have also become an important part of consumers behavior as they look to stretch their dollar further. Last year, coupon redemptions actually rose after a 16 year decline according to CMS, a coupon redemption company as reported by the AP. Among the online coupon sites that are being visited are CoolSavings, CouponMom, Coupons, FatWallet, FabulousSavings, ShopatHome, TheGroceryGame, TheBargainist, UltimateCoupons or Wow-Coupons. Consumers are also visiting sites like CurrentCodes.com, where they can access discount codes that can be used at online retailers during the check-out process to reduce the price of their purchase or acquire something free.
Local coupon initiatives have been started in cities like Tampa, where coupon aggregator site CouponsofTampaBay provides a convenient site for accessing coupon savings. In the Madison area, we’ve seen a similar initiative with DineMadison.com where every Thursday you can buy a $50 gift certificate for $25 for a participating restaurant.
Unfortunately, the growth of online coupons has created an opportunity for swindlers to generate counterfeits that are costing manufacturers and retailers millions. Local retailers like Woodman’s have responded by not accepting coupons printed from the Internet while others like Festival Foods are only accepting online coupons printed from their own sites according to the La Crosse Tribune.
So what does this all mean to your business?
There are several implications you can draw from these trends. Among them are that you need to reach prospects using “click tools” in addition to the more traditional ones that have been part of your mix. If you’re an online retailer try to get your products indexed by the shopping bots so that you can become part of the consideration set when consumers are buying online. Make sure that your monitoring what is being said about your products and business in blogs, at review sites or in other online publications. This monitoring can be valuable for making improvements, but it can also be critical when the news and reviews are false and you’re ready to fight back with the truth. If your product or service lends itself to promotional pricing using coupons, keep these in mind as a tool for reaching price sensitive consumers looking for lower costs and special deals.
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