What Internet Buyers Want

by : Dr. Lynella Grant

Web commerce is all about courtship, not salesmanship. In life, a suitor can't go from first date to the engagement ring in one afternoon. Courtship is an intricate dance, where each party contributes to the relationship at a measured tempo. Trust grows through gradual exchanges and reassurances.

Yet, the typical sales-oriented Web site urges the visitor to jump to commitment right away. Pushing for them to 'BUY NOW!' is not only premature, but a misapplication of the fact that visitors are in a hurry. Developing a relationship can't be rushed or skipped--not if you intend to lead them to the alter (sale). Buyers want and need to proceed at their own pace.

Each request you make of a visitor 'call, read, subscribe or buy' requires a higher level of commitment. So back off the hard sell, and instead weave the steps into a sensuous dance that respects them and invites a lasting relationship. It's possible, if you follow these five points that buyers care about.

1. How well they're treated

The mood of the site should be welcoming, geared to assist the customer finding what they're looking for. Trust grows as you minimize their sense of risk. And make no mistake, the buyer's risks are greater online. Recognize them and reduce them as much as possible. They've been conned, burned, or faced non-delivery of purchases--not to mention abuse of their credit cards or privacy information.

The Internet works because people feel anonymous. People are understandably leery about revealing personal information. So every aspect of the site needs to say, 'you're safe here' along with, 'look at all the interesting things we have to show you.' One fast move and that skittish deer will bolt.

Web commerce has several inherent disadvantages--shipping charges, delays until products arrive, lack of hands-on assessment, etc. When buyers encounter other disadvantages as well, whether it's unacceptable policies, or added costs, they treat them as a deal breaker--even if it's just a little bit more.

2. How efficiently the buying process went

Assuming your site sells a tangible product, the buyer has to be able to assess its looks, materials, uses, and value without being able to touch it. This can be accomplished much better with some products than others by use of photographs and descriptive copy. But a buyer still takes a chance as to color, size, quality, and suitability. Sales sites need to know their customers' concerns so well that they anticipate what they need to know.

Design the site for ease of scanning and logical organization that presents information so it will guide and inform.

3. How much aggravation they had to endure

Here's where poor navigation or slow download times cost you sales. (Navigation problems are a main reason why site visitors leave.) They won't stay at a site where they can't easily find the answers they want. And if they have to wait too long for pages to load, forget it. Internet users are extremely time sensitive. The high percentage of abandoned shopping carts (as much as a quarter) proves that the payment process can defeat all efforts to motivate the buyer. These are 'almost' sales, where sloppiness got in the way.

Getting through some payment procedures confounds even experienced surfers. How many payment options do you provide--anywhere from Paypal to fax your order? Credit cards are convenient, but not always the purchaser's preferred choice. How intrusive are the questions (yes, we know about fraud avoidance)? When the goal is building trust (in both directions), how many 'we don't trust you' signals does your site send?

4. How many mind games were played on them

The primary products sold on most web sites are hype and high pressure. Unfortunately, that's not what buyers are looking to buy, and why conversion rates online are so abysmally low. The quality of typical sales copy is aggressive, designed more to trick than inform. It seems like the sales letters were drafted from the same manual.

Aggressive tactics are so widespread that effective, customer-friendly copy can actually stand out. So get rid of the 'gotchas.' Customers dread them, and then relax once they don't find them. Mind games don't end after the sale's complete. Be alert for delivery, security, and privacy lapses that could creep up after the sale.

5. How well the business has its act together overall

Behind the computer screen are untold elements--efficient links, quick loading, glitch-free credit card processing, the respect for the visitor's time, etc., that reveal the company's priorities. Unless all the parts work with a consistent goal and degree of care the buyer experiences whiplash. Sour notes (small potatoes signals) are trivial in themselves, but break the momentum toward purchasing. They're easily eliminated--once you know to look for them. To learn how, read the helpful articles at my site,

Give yourself extra points for post-sale follow up. Here's where Internet sellers can shine because of autoresponders and customer-oriented e-mail. Don't just use such tools for making the sale. Use them to build relationships and added value after you get their money.

Dance Your Way to Profits

Courtship is necessary to develop a lasting relationship.

The pace of the dance should reflect the give-and-take necessary to build trust. Don't sell the buyer, court him with a well-paced dance.

This is Part II of a two-part series. Part I can be read at:

? 2004, Lynella Grant