Retailers and e-tailers must navigate through often confusing and evolving shoppers’ trending patterns nowadays to strategize how to make a sale. Once you think you’ve got it down, and know how to reach your demographic, things change. Then you start again.
Never mind that you have to adjust your pricing in almost real time to salvage the ever shrinking margins for your inventory. Diamond prices and precious metals price fluctuations are indeed worrisome, but in the end, we still need customers to say yes to our product.
Websites are the portal to an entire world of consumers. They enlarge our neighborhood and have the potential to draw in previously untapped consumers to our brick and mortar, or simply to pull the trigger (figuratively) and make a purchase 24/7 on our site. But first of all we’ve got to make sure they find us.
Brick and mortars have come to suspect that potential customers may drop by to see and handle branded goods only to purchase at Amazon or similar sites later. This behavior spawned the term “showrooming” prompting smart retailers to think of ways around that problem. Providing a level of personalized experience they cannot get online, and maybe price close if not price matching when feasible makes sense. Also, allowing the consumer to actually compare and contrast similar items while providing expertise on these products ramps up the personalized quotient.
If you sell online too, or exclusively, you need to understand how your customer shops today. With regards to many online consumers, it’s more complex than merely going online and searching by product type or brand name.
There’s actually a name for a new tribe of super consumers who avail themselves of the latest technology to finesse their online buying habits. At over 100 million strong, this force to be reckoned with is redefining what is normal e-shopping today. They have a name. They are the smartphone class and are distinguished from less savvy Americans in the way they elect to communicate, voraciously consume media and of course shop. The smartphone class experiences a genuine sense of empowerment from the burgeoning access to real-time information.
Online expert Marlene Murphy, developer at Jewelry Website Designers offers insight into shopper’s migration away from PCs to more portable and convenient tools. The new breed of electronics frees shoppers and allows them to preview and buy in the presence of their peers; sometimes a big perk for high-ticket items like luxury goods.
Q: Over the last say, year and a half, what trending patterns have you observed within the online shopper market?
A: Research from my marketing website analytics indicates a marked increase in web visitors utilizing mobile devices – primarily iPads/tablets and SmartPhones. On the flipside, there’s a decline of visitors using full size desktop PCs and even laptops. The statistics might surprise you:
- 94% of SmartPhone users search for local businesses.
- 70% of SmartPhone users are accessing mobile-friendly websites and calling a local business after searching.
- 66% of SmartPhone users access mobile-friendly websites and then visit local businesses in person.
- 90% of SmartPhone users act within 24 hours of initial contact
Q: To what do you attribute these dramatic transitions?
A: More SmartPhones (contrasted to basic cell phones) and mobile devices are marketed by highly competitive mobile communication providers; faster connect time, and SmartPhone plans with enticing unlimited data packages. Beyond that, public spaces are increasingly providing free WiFi. Walk through an airport, a doctor’s waiting room, McDonalds, Panera Bread - everyone is engrossed in their SmartPhone or iPad…. and a lot of them are shopping.
Q: What should retailers and e-tailers know now about the spending habits of their key market?
A: Consumers are now researching products online, not just prices but descriptions, specs and recommendations or “reviews” from peer purchasers prior to deciding what and where to buy. With online e-tailers like Amazon offering free shipping and actual customer testimonials, retailers need to provide other value-added services and conveniences to swing the shopper their way. It could be generous return policies, in-store discounts in general or for birthdays and special occasions, and also web coupons.
Be intuitive and preemptively answer questions that shoppers may be wondering. Complete and accurate product descriptions (sizes, weights, options) should be prominently displayed for the consumer. Internet shoppers are impatient and want answers now and are unlikely to call you with a question. They may however inquire via a Live Chat application on your website as it does not interfere with them while on-the-job or with their socializing.
Q: How can retailers and e-tailers respond to changing buying habits so they gain a larger market share over the competition?
A: Shoppers use their SmartPhones to check store hours and location before they drive to a store. They may even call to verify that what they want to purchase is in stock.
Retailers can simplify the process by including QR codes (Quick Response coding) which downloads their contact info into the consumer’s smart device, and place contact and location information on every page of their website.
Q: Are consumers buying from their hand-held devices more than they were a year ago? If so why?
A: Absolutely. More of these devices are in the hands of consumers now than even nine months ago. Society demands convenience, and behavior is trending to multi-tasking. We’re so busy we want to maximize every moment, especially while in places we passively wait like doctor’s waiting rooms and airports. In 2012, 34% of American shoppers purchased from their mobile device compared to 19% in 2011.
According to eMarketer, “Nearly 116 million Americans will use a SmartPhone at least monthly by the end of this year, up from 93.1 million in 2011. By 2013, smart device owners will represent over half of all mobile phone users, and by 2016, nearly three in five consumers will have a SmartPhone.” It’s a market segment we can’t ignore.
Q: Help us to understand the different types of mobile devices that shoppers use to connect with an online merchant - what are the main ones?
A: There are SmartPhones with iPhone or Android technology all of which are technology that can simultaneously make phone calls and surf the web. The device group called Tablets – like iPad and others offer communication through Skype, Instant Message, e-mails, even Facetime in addition to internet website access.
Q: Finally, what is the latest technological buzz word to learn for online shopping?
A: It has to be “mobile-responsive”. Websites can be “mobile-friendly” which means they will display and function adequately in a mobile device. Mobile-response technology detects the type of device being utilized in the search and in turn displays the web contents in a device-specific manner.
Q: How can e-tailers stay current with trending patterns in on-line consumer behavior?
A: Look for marketing companies specializing in online consumer-buying behavior. eMarketer.com is one example. Find some you like, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to their newsletters. WIRED is also an interesting online and hardcopy periodical that reviews developing technology as it affects our culture and economy. Techno-speak like ‘crowdsourcing’ owe their origins to this publication.
Q: What other bits of online intel would you like to share with us?
A: A predominant weakness afflicting older jewelry websites is the preponderance of outdated technology that can affect its SEO ranking among other things. Those jewelry websites were often built as Flash-based, and meant to project a stylish vibe. Even if the entire site isn’t built in Flash, if there are Flash movies or special effect Flash navigation, these elements display as a black hole on smart devices, making navigation non-existent. Apple operating system technology which drives the functions of their popular mobile devices was intentionally created to not work with Flash because it was a competitor’s platform. With a Flash-based website you’re dead in the water. On sites I’m updating that were built only a couple years ago, I am converting all videos to mobile device compliant versions.