Online Consumer Behavior Trends in 2014
Consumer behavior isn't a fixed thing. It constantly changes, particularly in the fast-moving world of online retail, and marketing strategies have to change to keep pace.
In 2014, there are three major trends of buyer behavior across search, social, email and the wider web and they all revolve around consumer empowerment. Consumers are typically becoming better informed, they increasingly know how to opt out of marketing communications and they have higher expectations.
Consumers Are Better Informed
Consumers are better informed about the products, services and businesses they use than ever before. They can access detailed specs, pricing and reviews about goods and services 24/7 and, thanks to the rise of the smartphone, they can do so from anywhere. A Motorola survey found that nearly half of younger shoppers felt that their smartphones and other mobile devices provided them with more useful product information than salespeople and store associates. Forty-six percent of Generation Y shoppers (those aged 18 to 34) and 38 percent of Generation X shoppers (aged 35 to 49) reported that accessing data via their mobile devices was more useful than engaging in conversation with in-store staff.
In addition to checking product specs on the go, consumers are also researching from the comfort of their own homes. A survey by Nielsen found that 61 percent of shoppers used the internet to research their grocery shopping, including reading reviews and comparing prices. Online grocery shopping is on the rise, but many consumers prefer to inform themselves by researching online then buying the products in person.
Online word-of-mouth via social media, user reviews and personal recommendations is also very important. According to a recent Global Trust in Advertising Report, 92 percent of global consumers said they trusted earned media such as personal recommendations above any other form of advertising. Online consumer reviews were the second most trusted source of brand information, with 70 percent trusting this information.
Consumers Know How to Opt Out
Tech-savvy consumers not only know how to opt out and unsubscribe from marketing email lists, they're also more adept at filtering messages and tuning out unwanted media "noise." According to Superprofile, a consumer will be subjected to nearly 3,000 media messages on an average day. They'll pay attention to 52 of those and remember just four.
The lesson here is that any messages you send should be relevant, targeted and engaging. This applies to all channels, but is particularly important for email. Five years after The Wall Street Journal published an article declaring that email was on its way out as the king of digital communication, email marketing is still one of the most effective ways of reaching consumers. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), email marketing provided a return on investment of $40.56 for every $1 spent, eclipsing other channels such as search engine marketing ($22.44) and online display advertising ($19.72).
To use email marketing effectively, however, messages should be permission-based, meaning the opt-in for your email lists should be clear and transparent. "Stealth" opt-ins such as pre-checked boxes that have to be cleared if the customer doesn't want to receive communications can see you immediately consigned to the spam folder. You should also use metrics that take both consumer demographics and behaviors into account to provide personalized and relevant messages. There's a constant daily battle going on for the average customer's attention, and generic, poorly targeted messages are increasingly likely to be ignored.
Consumers Have Higher Expectations
One of the results of this increase in customer awareness and the instant ability to compare and contrast products and services while filtering out unwanted marketing messages is the emergence of what's been called "the expectation economy." Crowd-sourced reviews, specialist consumer websites, online word-of-mouth and consumers own experiences actually consuming products have all combined to create a critical and demanding shopper.
According to Forbes, consumer expectations increased by an average of 20 percent in the five years leading up to 2013, with many brands unable to close the gap between what they're offering and what consumers actually want.
What's more, today's shoppers increasingly expect companies to keep seamless track of their purchasing history, communication preferences and desires, effectively fulfilling their expectations without being told what they actually are. This means collecting, interpreting and using personal data, habits and histories in order to provide a better service. Online privacy has been an important issue over recent years, but a recent study found that 57 percent of consumers are willing to share additional personal information such as their location, top five Facebook friends’ names and information about family members in return for financial rewards or better service.
Today, consumers have more control over what to purchase, where to buy it from and the alternatives available to them. This leaves retailers with the challenge of winning consumer attention in the first place, then fostering a sense of brand loyalty through engagement and a level of service that lives up to an increased sense of expectation.