What Do Online Customers Really Want?

As the battle for Web survival intensifies, e-tailers are finding it increasingly necessary to ask themselves a most fundamental question: What do online customers really want?

It is a tough question to answer, particularly given that online commerce is still in its formative stages and many of the shoppers are new to the medium.

Still, little by little, a picture of what it takes to attract an online customer is beginning to emerge.

Bricks Add Security

A new study released today by NPD Online Research indicates that users with less than six months of experience on the Internet feel most comfortable making their purchases from sites owned by major offline retailers. In fact, the top five sites that new users tend to frequent are Amazon.com, Toysrus.com, Wal-Mart Online, eToys and Barnesandnoble.com.

Even users who have been on the Web longer say that they will shop mostly at those sites. The only exception is that Wal-Mart Online disappears from the list and CDNow takes its place.

This news is not music to the ears of lesser-known e-tailers or companies who are just venturing into the world of e-commerce. So, what will it take to attract the attention of the masses of new online shoppers?

Play To The Audience

First, e-tailers need to respond directly to customer demand. A new survey from Ernst & Young found that the top categories for online buyers are unchanged from last year. Shoppers are consistent in their desire for computers and related products, books, CDs, toys and videos.

Furthermore, as the Internet becomes more mainstream, online shoppers’ demographics now mirror those of offline consumers.

The Ernst & Young study showed that 59 percent of online shoppers are women, 58 percent are married, and 58 percent are aged 30 – 49. Additionally, 58 percent have an income of $30,000 – $69,000 (US$) per year.

Middle America has found e-commerce, but its gift list is limited to very few items.

If e-commerce is to fulfill its early promise of transforming the way America shops, e-businesses will need to make shopping as easy and economical as possible. Available research indicates that while services might sell, products will generate more profits with less effort. And even sites with viable products won’t necessarily succeed if the site is too complex to navigate.

Finding Out What Works

New data from Opinion Research indicates that 68 percent of online shoppers are willing to provide personal information about their online and offline shopping preferences in exchange for an assurance of banner advertisements that fit their preferences.

Additionally, recent research from IBM and Louis Harris & Associates found that those Web sites that personalize their service and ensure consumers’ privacy are the most likely to succeed on the Web.

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