That ecommerce is the fastest growing retail platform is hardly surprising. The speed at which it is growing, though, is noteworthy. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of Americans shopping online rose from 22% to 79%.
While 16 years may seem like a long time, it is actually very short for such a drastic transformation in consumer behaviour. Previous transformations, like the evolution of the marketplace in urban areas to retail stores to mail-order catalogues to malls, were slow. Decades, or even centuries, of technological advancements and societal changes would be required before new shopping behaviours would become established, grow in popularity and become the dominant form. That it has happened in just 16 years for ecommerce is emblematic of the exponential growth of both the technological capacity of the internet and the transformative changes in our society since 2000.
These significant changes in consumer behaviour are going to keep happening on a regular basis. It is difficult, but important, for businesses to stay on top of these changes in order to provide excellent customer experience, sell more products and remain viable.
In an interesting twist, some of these new trends are actually returns to previous consumer preferences. For example, eBay was able to revolutionize online shopping by re-introducing the barter system. Similarly, one of the hottest emerging trends in online sales is also a callback to historic consumer behaviour, namely “try before you buy”.
The Specifics of Online Shopping Behaviour
In a related trend to the emergence of online shopping, is the growing trend of mobile shopping. Over half of Americans purchase products from their phone on a weekly basis. More and more of those are purchasing after clicking through for a link on social, that number is currently at 15% weekly.
The convenience of online shopping is one obvious benefit. We can conduct in depth product research and comparisons from the phone in our pocket. We can have that product delivered right to your door. The prominence and power of social media advertising is such that we targeted for products we want or need, maybe even before we recognize that desire or need.
Interestingly, though, 65% of American shoppers would prefer to shop in bricks and mortar retail locations. So convenience isn’t necessarily the king of online shopping. The real reason shopping is moving online at such a quick rate? Cost. More precisely: the ability to find the best price.
Only 21% of shoppers would purchase without checking online prices and only 14% would shop online without knowing retail prices.
Implications Beyond Online Retail Shopping
This transformational change in online retail shopping has, not surprisingly, had seismic impacts on other industries as well. Most prominently, the infrastructure that supports online shopping has also changed. Think about the changes we have seen in the delivery and the manufacturer industries in order to support ecommerce. Drone deliveries and 3D printing are new technologies that are becoming more and more ubiquitous.
But perhaps no industry has been residually changed more by online shopping than the digital infrastructure that supports it. Websites,ecommerce platforms, CRM tools, knowledge management tools, apps, widgets and more all need to respond to this change in consumer behaviour.
Just as the customer looking for a new hat will research their options more than ever before, so too will the company looking to invest in a particular ecommerce platforms like Shopify to grow their business or CRM tools like Hubspot to manage business processes.
Though online shopping has many clear benefits, particularly for cost and convenience, it is not without challenges. The most prominent challenge for consumers shopping online is trust in the product’s quality. This applies if you’re looking for a hat or a new website to host your business. How can you know that you’re getting the right price, and, more importantly, a product you want? This challenges grows when talking about more significant investments like inventory management, ecommerce platform and CRM software.
How Try Before You Buy Marries Price, Convenience and Trust
Branded stores like Best Buy are trying to stay competitive with retail (and ecommerce) marketplace giants like Amazon and eBay. Best Buy recently announced a partnership with Lumoid to allow consumers to rent products like digital cameras, smartphones and headphones from BestBuy.com. Why? It gives them a competitive edge in overcoming consumer’s distrust of products purchased online.
Now someone looking to buy a smartwatch can use Best Buy to research the available options, find the best price (through their price-matching offers) and have their best options delivered to their home to try. When the consumer picks their favourite, they can send the other options back, keep their favourite and buy the difference in the rental and purchase price.
This concept of bringing the traditional retail showroom into your home is one of the fastest growing trends in consumer behaviour. By allowing customers to test a product or products prior to purchase, it gives them faith in their purchase.
Of course, this is hardly a new innovation; free samples, 1 month trials and rentals are sales tried-and-true techniques that existed long before online shopping. The big difference now is that the importance and scale of these offers has been changed by the aforementioned shift to online sales. In this way, online shopping has been directly responsible for the reemergence try before you buy.
Digital platforms and tools are getting into the try before you buy trend too. In 2016, CRM giant Hubspot began offering a “Hubspot free” version that gives you some of the benefits of the tool. This gives companies who are thinking of switching to Hubspot, or who haven’t invested in a CRM, an opportunity to understand its benefits and learn more about how they can use the full version if they decide to invest. By having users become acclimated to the interface and experience, Hubspot has a better chance of selling paid levels of service. This helps it get past the distrust inherent in purchasing before you try.
Slight side note here, if you’re in business you need to:
- Be online
- Use the Hubspot Free tool to start generating a database on your leads and learning more about them to improve customer experience and your business strategy.
How To Leverage Samples, Trials and Rentals into Sales
You’re a smart business owner, you see the digital writing on the wall. Business is happening online and it is doing so at a greater rate every year. But the apprehension of purchase before usage isn’t going anywhere either. So how do you leverage the growing preference for try before you buy?
Consider the lead of Best Buy and Hubspot. Can you offer trial or rental versions of your product? If you’re offering a service, online or offline, is there a version you could offer with reduced capability but also a reduced price?
Ultimately, you want to find out how you can make the purchase decision for your potential customers less intimidating. Even before the point of sale, trials, samples and rentals are a great way to start building a relationship between your brand and the customer.
To ensure you’re making the most of these sales opportunities, consider the entire try before buy process. A consumer may try your service or product as a sample, rental or trial but are still going to research your brand, product and other options. As many as 70% of consumers have said they try a product in a showroom or sample before doing more research and looking for the best price online. Consider how your online reviews, price point and ecommerece platform (if you have one) will impact the customer’s ultimate purchase decision. If you offer a great sample product, but your online reviews are poor or your website can’t be found, a consumer is not likely to follow through with a purchase and your hard done work generating a hot lead will be for not.
If you’re considering selling a product or service online, or are worried about your online sales numbers, consider how you can leverage try before you buy to help overcome the associated challenges of the online shopping boom.
AUTHOR: Abbey Hills