Consumer online behaviour is something every business website owner would love to predict. After all, if you could predict how your customers would behave you could produce exactly the right kind of website and be sure of certain success. Sadly, it’s not that easy. Indeed, it is not as easy as it is in the “real world” of retail, for instance.
Large shopping brands employ retail psychologists to help predict the behaviour in their stores. A great deal is known about the way people walk around shops, where their eyes look and how they make their choices. Online similar attempts have been made to understand the behaviour of website visitors, but unfortunately the answers are much more confusing, contradictory and difficult to interpret.
As an example, consider where consumers look on a web page. Eye tracking studies are frequently used – particularly by major brands – to work out where people look on their web pages. The problem is that such studies show exactly where people look, but they seem to be able to click on places they are not even looking at…! Eye tracking studies of a humble Google search results page show that almost no-one looks at the right hand side of the page. Yet, clicks on that side of the page brought in Google some $50bn last year. Not bad from an area of a web page that doesn’t get viewed.
Similarly, research shows that people need to trust a website before they will properly engage with it. Studies show that there are a couple of key elements of a web page which help people trust the company. They want to see the business is “real” and that means having a physical address (not a PO Box) and a phone number they can call should they need to speak to someone. These are features which people frequently look for before deciding to buy. Yet, Amazon appear to be doing quite well without showing either on their main web pages.
So, research into consumer online behaviour often produces one kind of finding which you can then discover is not always the case. And in fact, much of the academic research on online consumer behaviour concludes with a common theme – we don’t know much, so more research is needed..!
But that’s not much help if you run an online business and you want to increase your sales. Just what is a website owner to do?
Well, even though the research is confusing there are some common themes which emerge.
Whether or not your e-commerce site is usable is linked to success. Consumers leave websites which they cannot use – almost instantly. Things need to be obvious; for instance people look top-right for the shopping basket. Put it somewhere else and they can’t find it, even though it is “obvious”. Similarly, you need as few clicks as possible, your website needs to work on all browsers and platforms and all screen sizes. Far too often, it seems, website owners are concentrating on the aesthetics of their sites, rather than the basics. Consumers online expect you to have the fundamentals in place first and foremost.
Consumer online behaviour studies show that trusting a website is vital if it is to sell anything. And even though people look for signals of trust, such as an address or phone number, there appear to be three key factors in trusting your website. First is the usability – if your site works well, people start to trust you more. Secondly, people trust sites their friends trust; they do not want to know how many “likes” or “fans” you have but they prefer sites their actual, real friends use. And the third component of trust is your brand image – and much of that is nothing to do with the website but about your “real world” presence.
It seems that online people want to interact with websites. If your website doesn’t afford them the ability to comment, to add reviews or to chat about your products and services then you get more people leaving the page rather than staying – even if they don’t actually contribute. But it is the fact they could if they wanted to which appears to be important.
Predicting the consumer online behaviour in your sector may be difficult and require lots of in-depth analysis and research. However, if you start with these fundamentals you will not be going too far wrong.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+