Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler

October 24, 2001
An Inside Look
Online shoppers reveal likes and dislikes of online stores

Online shoppers are picky. They want everything to function flawlessly and be as intuitive as if they created it. They allow some room for error, but won't put up with much. And once a retailer proves itself, they are happy to be repeat customers.

Those are some of the things five consumers told the Wall Street Journal last month in a panel discussion about online shopping experiences. These shoppers revealed what bothers them most about online stores and what would convince them to buy more online.

The panel had common complaints about online stores – the pages load too slowly, it's hard to find what you want, the product categories don't make sense – but they did have some new ones. They said many sites have too many steps in their check-out processes and most don't include product availability information. The online shopping panel spent most of their time discussing ways retailers could improve and what would make them buy more online. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Simplify the return process. Allow customers to return merchandise bought online to a physical store, if there is one.
  • Make it simple for customers to update their personal information stored on the site. (Note: they wanted to be able to store their shipping and billing information on the site so they wouldn't have to re-enter it every time they made purchases.)
  • Reward shoppers for frequent purchases. Offer them special discounts or exclusive sales.
  • Send well-designed and well-targeted e-mail promotions, but don't overload customers with e-mails.
  • Send reminder e-mails. If you let customers set up accounts with information about birthdays and special occasions, you can send them reminder e-mails with gift ideas.
  • Offer online sales, change them often and let your customers know about it.
  • Offer cards and gift wrap to encourage gift purchases.
  • Provide related content or entertainment.
  • Use high-quality images to inspire purchases.

The shoppers interviewed by WSJ want the same things online consumers want. They want to shop, but it can't be too much work. If they have questions, they want answers right away. If they can't find what they want, they'll go somewhere else. Additionally, shoppers said if shipping charges outweigh the convenience of buying online, it's not worth it to them.

Online shopping is becoming more mainstream each year. People are more comfortable with the Internet and online security, so they are more willing to buy online. Now to make the sale, retailers have to provide the shopping environment these customers want. If you're not sure what you're online customers want, ask them. Put up a quick survey on your site, and pay attention to how your customers respond.

- by Julia M. Duncan