Although you already know your existing offline customers, you can never assume that your “new” online customers will have the same needs or wants as your traditional customer base.
The online customer can be a chameleon and unless you are prepared for change, you could lose sight of them.By going online you are opening your business to a whole new range of customers. The nature of the Internet means that it is just as easy for a person in Alaska to access your Web site, as it is for some one in Sydney or Timbuktu! Consequently, you are opening yourself up to a potentially unlimited customer base.
You are also open to a greater range of businesses competing for the same customers. It is vital, therefore, that you pinpoint exactly who your customers are likely to be.
Understanding your existing customers
Your first step is to consider your existing customers. Not only are they potential online customers but they could also be a source of information for what you should put on your Web site.
Conduct an informal survey of your customers to see how computer proficient they may be and for those that are connected to the Internet, if they would consider purchasing your products online. The easiest way to survey your customers is to have an informal conversation. Tell them you are going online and ask if they could help you with a couple of questions you have.
Alternatively, you could hand your customers a survey to fill out and provide an incentive, such as a prize drawing, for customers to fill out and return the survey.
Essentially, the information you want to get from your customers is:
How knowledgeable and comfortable they are with computers and the Internet
Would they visit your Web site if you had one
What would they be likely to buy from your site
What would they be unlikely to buy
How much additional information about each item offered on the site would they find useful
What else would they like to find
What method of payment are they most comfortable using online
What details about security and privacy would they like to see?
However, don’t forget that these particular customers are used to purchasing from your “bricks and mortar” store. If they are happy doing business with you offline, they probably won’t rush to buy from you online unless you offer them something they can’t get from your offline premises.
Of course, the more “tech-savvy” customers will probably visit your online store at least once but the majority of your customers will continue to purchase from your existing store. Therefore, online you must target the “unknown” shopper.
The online customer
Because of the nature of the World Wide Web, your online customer can arrive at your site in any number of ways, from a search, through links or even just through a mistyped word.
Researchers McKinsey and Media Metrix, however, explained in their study, “All Visitors Are Not Created Equal”, that online consumers actually fell into distinct profiles or patterns of behaviour. Essentially, it means online consumers are divided into the following categories:
Simplifiers – who shop online because it makes their lives easier
Surfers – who will likely come across your site by accident as they are continually “surfing” to see what else is out there
Connectors – who trace known brands or products to see if they are available online
Bargainers – who are after the best possible deals on set products
Routiners – who are selective about the sites they visit and want quality rather than quantity
Sportsters – who are interested in certain types of sites and will actively search for new sites in their field of interest.
Look at what you plan to offer on your Web site in the light of these different types of behaviour and see how this will affect what you put online and how you will present it. See if you can identify what type of customer you are likely to attract.
In their report, McKinsey and Media Metrix said they felt Connectors and Bargainers were more likely to become active online shoppers than some of the other consumer types.
Create a list of the suggestions made by your existing customers and compare this to any information you may have gathered about your existing competitors’ success with their Web sites. Next compare this to the behaviour of online consumers and see if you can identify any factors which can help you with your own online store.
After all, if you only have a few seconds to catch the attention of Internet surfers, you need to gear your site to attract the attention of those people who are most likely to buy from you.
You should also consider other sources as potential customers, such as your business associates, or suppliers. You may be able to offer them a product or service through your Web site which would prove beneficial financially for both of you.
Contact them and ask if there are any products or facilities you can include in your Web site that will make it easier for them to do business with you. Many companies start their Web sites purely for business-to-business commerce rather than business-to-consumer.
Remember that getting value from your Web site doesn’t only mean that you must make sales through it. If your Web site improves your ability to liaise and conduct business with your associates, it will also help improve your bottom line.