E-tailing: What Web customers really want

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When it comes to e-commerce, the Web has become a do-it-yourself consumer report. Instead of going from store to store, 61 million shoppers are clicking from one site to an-other, and 51% say the Web is the final place they go.

While our recent NetSmart study focused on consumers, surveying 1,000 users older than 21 who are online at least one hour a week, it has lessons for anyone looking to set up shop online.

Shoppers on a mission

What did we find? High-ticket shoppers go to Web sites eager to be convinced.

In the survey, 93% said they are looking for specific information to help them decide which brand to buy, while 64% said they made a high-ticket retail purchase based on online information. Their Web-driven retail purchases range from autos to appliances.

These time-starved shoppers are on a mission. Convenience is their primary motivation (98%). They also go online to save time (84%).

The key to success is to unlock and understand core motivations that drive visitors to your site. Customers are willing to spend as much time as necessary to absorb the information they want. They are interested in meat and potatoes, not bells and whistles.

As a result, to become a successful e-tailer, think like a successful retailer:

  • Get to know each visitor personally. Identify what they are looking for. Help them find it quickly.

  • Prioritize the benefits for their individual interests.

  • Ask for the sale.

  • Consider the transaction as the start of a new relationship.

    It seems simple enough, but 83% of customers leave Web sites because of frustration with navigation, self-serving content and lack of interactivity. Think of your Web site as an electronic store and design it to become a surrogate sales staff.

    Sites that sell

    Integrate the key elements of your site into a seamless interactive bond:

  • User-friendly home page. Use the home page to initiate the bonding process. In our survey, 71% rate this as very important. Unfortunately, the word "page" has led many marketers to design home pages as attention getters. They don't have to. Eager customers are already there.

    The ideal home page anticipates visitor needs: what to fix for dinner, click here; safe family car, click here.

  • Customer-centric navigation. This is key, since 73% of customers say they will leave a site if it takes more than two or three clicks to get to the information they want. Your navigation should be based on customers' interests, not your product line.

  • Customized content. Position your product as a solution. Identify prospects' specific interests and problems. Use Web site technology to prioritize your product benefits for each shopper.

  • Value-added extras. Use them sparingly. Customers go to high-ticket sites to be informed (92%), not entertained (19%). Interactivity is essential.

    They also come to Web sites with high expectations. Be sure not to disappoint them.

    Finally, keep in mind that customers are in control. They are stocking their own mental shelves with the brands they are going to consider and buy. If they encounter a high-performance, efficient, user-friendly site, they are likely to think the same about your products and company.

    But if your site is poorly designed and non-responsive, that tells them something, too.

    Bernadette Tracy is president of New York-based, which provides syndicated motivational and behavioral surveys for online marketers. An executive summary of "NetSmart IV e-Commerce: Internet Users Mean Business" can be obtained by e-mailing [email protected].

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