Profile of a Perfect E-Commerce Customer

The perfect online customer spends thousands of dollars per year on a wide variety of merchandise and returns repeatedly to order more goods. For e-tailers, the quest for such a customer is like the search for the Holy Grail. No one leaps into the e-commerce waters as a fully formed mega shopper. Only over time do occasional Web surfers mature into first-time buyers and eventually repeat purchasers.

For example, Jeff Bezos’ perfect customer might begin by buying a book at Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN). If he is satisfied with that experience, he may return to buy a DVD player. During the DVD purchase, he might buy several movies based on Amazon’s personalized recommendations. And a month later, when his microwave oven calls it quits, he would log on to Amazon yet again to replace the appliance.

In this hypothetical case, what begins as a US$10 purchase becomes a repeat business relationship worth hundreds of dollars. “Shoppers that have become inherently more attached to buying goods from you are willing to trust you with their dollars for more expensive and riskier purchases,” Forrester Research analyst Carrie Johnson told the E-Commerce Times.

Such trust opens up new opportunities in the form of opt-in e-mail marketing. For example, customers who trust that a particular e-tailer understands their needs probably will be more willing to open an e-mail from that company, Johnson said. And if customers click a link in that e-mail to make a purchase, it means they find the e-tailer’s products relevant and are more prone to make future purchases.

Common Ground

“More than anything else, it’s the commonalities between all shoppers that are important, not the differences,” Giga Information Group analyst Andrew Bartels told the E-Commerce Times. He noted that all merchants look for some key characteristics in customers, including willingness to buy and make repeat purchases, openness to marketing efforts, and hard-core loyalty.

But a few other traits are unique to the online world because, unlike offline consumers, online shoppers must be comfortable with technology. For example, the perfect online customer would respond not only to e-mail marketing, but also to interstitial ads and rich media plays designed to lure them.

“Merchants like customers who are willing to try new things; who are responsive to pop-up ads and underlay ads,” Bartels said. “That means the money they are investing in technologies is creating value.”

Bad Customers?

Bartels estimated that only 60 percent of those who have online access make online purchases. However, although this figure might indicate the existence of a large pool of untapped potential customers, analysts stressed that just as in the brick-and-mortar world, some customers are not worth wooing.

For example, comparison shoppers are only interested in finding the lowest price. Others only make purchases during sales or free shipping promotions.

“E-tailers don’t want customers who return items too often,” Johnson added. “An apparel retailer is looking at 30 percent returns overall, and they are losing money on that customer.”

Perfection a Dream

In terms of luring the best online customers, GartnerG2 analyst Geri Spieler told the E-Commerce Times that online retailers should focus on perfecting their customer service experience. After all, while e-tailers may be seeking the perfect online customer, customers also are looking for the perfect online retailer.

“The characteristic of the perfect online customer is patience,” Spieler said, “because the perfect e-tailer doesn’t exist.”

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