Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Just because everything is different, doesn’t mean that anything has changed. Way back in the middle of the 20th century, business owners and advertising/marketing specialists learned through experience that the response rate to advertising campaigns, known today in the internet age as the conversion rate, is about 3%. When you distribute a marketing flier in a chosen geography to announce a new business, for example, either by door to door leafleting or through a mailing, you can expect that 3% or so of the recipients will show up and buy at some point.
In the internet age, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube will announce the grand opening. The business owner will spend several thousand dollars to launch a website that’s e-commerce ready, with a user-friendly and secure payment system and reliable shipping. Social media accounts are created, text and photos begin the digital marketing campaign. According to Statista, U.S. retail B2C e-commerce sales in 2017 were approximately $409,208,000 and 2018 retail B2C e-commerce sales have been projected to reach or exceed $461,582,000.
That’s all to the good, but recent research indicates that the internet age has only barely advanced the original direct marketing response rate. E-commerce sales conversion rates are about 4%, meaning that 96% of your website visitors do not buy. Your website may be able to attract customers from all over the world, but no matter. Whether your customers are down the street or in Amsterdam, aided by technology or looking at a flier that was left in the entrance of their apartment building, only a handful will respond to your advertising outreach.
The offline (i.e., in person) sales conversion rate is much more favorable, estimated at 30%. Why such a big gap between online and offline purchasing? Consumer behavior researchers note that trust is integral to making a purchase online or offline, but I’ve not seen research on why trust develops at a much greater rate in offline shopping. I suppose it can be attributed to seeing is believing?
There is another factor as well, one that seems to be overlooked when the discrepancy between online and offline sales conversion rates are compared and that is, the in-store sales help. The good ones can lead a customer down the garden path with a nice smile, a warm greeting, knowledge of the merchandise and the ability to answer questions and reassure. Good sales help are integral to generating revenue for the store.
Derrick Neufeld, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Western University’s Ivey Business School in Ontario, Canada and Mahdi Roghanizad, Assistant Professor at Huron University College also at Western University in Ontario, Canada, designed an experiment to study motivating factors in 245 research subjects and learn what might influence online purchases, from facts about secure online payments to the website’s font sizes and colors. The research subjects were asked to visit the website of a bookstore in Australia that had been in business for 17 years and with whom none of them had previously known or patronized and to then make some buying decisions.
Neufeld and Roghanizad found, surprisingly, that objective information about privacy and secure payment systems have less influence on purchasing than do subjective factors in website design that signal trust. Online purchases from an unknown entity, in particular, involve risk and potential customers rely more on subjective clues that communicate trust, such as “professionalism” and aesthetics, to make themselves feel comfortable enough to put their money down.
So how might you use this information to support online purchases from your company website? It sounds as if you’d be advised to work with a very talented web designer who understands both the aesthetic and technical aspects of the craft. The e-commerce focused website must have attractive page layouts and fonts, expert product photography (and maybe a video, too), colors that psychologists have determined will appeal to customers who are known to buy your B2C product and a good overall flow to the website pages. I recommend that even if it’s a second-tier priority, include a line that verifies the security and privacy of customer financial information.
Think of your e-commerce store in the way that proprietors of bricks and mortar locations do and create an experience that communicates the best that your brand has to offer. Make your website an attractive, welcoming environment that offers quality merchandise, intuitive navigation and excellent customer service. Make shopping a satisfying experience, as it is meant to be.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Custom tailoring at Lagu Hong Kong Tailor in Hong Kong, China (2012)