Tuesday, January 6, 2009

triggering purchase online

Making a purchase online, especially a substantial one, can be a nerve-wracking process for a consumer. The primary problem, aside from price, is trust. Shoppers negotiate their relationship with the vendor in much the same way they negotiate relationships with any stranger: by seeking information.

Trust makes all the difference, especially because trust becomes loyalty. Are there other ways to build trust and loyalty with customers?

What an online vendor lacks (and what becomes a disadvantage) is one-on-one interaction with the customer. As such, the customer must put forth additional effort to find out about a product for sale. Making this task easier can make all the difference in closing a sale.

An online retailer should strive to answer these customer questions ahead of time to reduce purchase anxiety:

1.Quality of the product
2.Quality and reliability of your customer service
3.Will the item arrive on time?
4.Will the product be as described or as appears on screen? Is it the right color or size?
5.Will it fit? Is this item true to size?
6.What if the product needs to be returned?
7.Is this site secure (privacy, credit card information)?
8.Is this really the best price? Answering these questions can lead to more sales.

According to one survey, 76 percent of respondents cited insufficient product information as a reason not to purchase, 79 percent rarely or never purchase with incomplete information, and 72 percent will abandon a site for a competitor or further research, usually finding the product elsewhere.

The top ten aspects of the online purchase process rated as "very important" to consumers reflected just two prime consumer motivations: gathering information and customer support. The top five, in this order were Product Overview, Merchant's Guarantee, Stock Availability, Quality of Image, Customer Service Links.

Consumers want complete specs, and they want to know the online vendor will be there for them if something goes wrong. This isn't unusual human behavior, of course. Communication scholars love to toss about Uncertainty Reduction Theory, which has been around for over 30 years.

According to this theory, humans follow a predictable pattern of information gathering when they encounter a stranger. Uncertainty about the stranger causes anxiety and distrust, and so seeking out information is a natural way of decreasing uncertainty and anxiety, and of building trust.

E-tailers, then, need to build trust by making sure information is available and easily accessed. Without face-to-face interaction and without the ability to compensate for that lack with complete information, the customer isn't going to risk doing business.

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