How the Internet has influenced the buying process

It is a verifiable reality that anybody with some experience on e-commerce will turn to the Internet to compare the price of a product or service in an attempt to find the lowest rate available on the market. As a matter of fact most of the visits to online stores do not instantly convert to a purchase; buyers will generally leave the shop and return ready to buy after having thoroughly compared. This is a behavior that naturally resembles what people do in offline stores.

Sites that reflect customer’s opinions on products and services have become increasingly popular. Prior to completing a purchase, a buyer will go through a number of different stages which are part of what is known as the consumer purchase decision process:
1.    Problem or necessity recognition
2.    Search for information
3.    Evaluation of alternatives
4.    Purchase decision
5.    Evaluation of purchase (Post-purchase)

When a buyer realizes that he has a new necessity to cover, he searches for information in order to find products or services that could satisfy this need and decides whether he wants to spend his money or not in order to fulfill it. Commonly, the need is generated by the product or service itself, thanks to clever marketing campaigns capable of creating new necessities on their target. Therefore, often the buyer has no need to search for this information since he is already aware of the type product that he is looking for. However, price and product specifications are determining factors that will condition the final choice. A purchase decision is also strongly influenced by recommendations and product reviews. It is precisely here where sites that allow comparing different products (based on price, specifications, ratings and reviews), comments made by friends on Facebook, recommendations found on Twitter or anonymous consumer reviews found while Googling a product, play an important part as influential key players.

Not so long ago, people would rely on a friend’s recommendation or even the salesclerk expertise to choose between different products that were very much alike in terms of product specifications. Unless the buyer had thoughtfully gone through a bothersome research process or the decision was conditioned by price, the choice could always vary at the very last moment. Thanks to the Internet, the proliferation of social media and new tools that deliver instant comparisons, including ratings and reviews, customers are now more informed and demanding than ever.

The decision making process is not limited to just a few recommendations anymore. Consumers have the ability to gather thousands of recommendations from all over the world and take a look at what others are saying about the product and how they are rating it. It has never been so easy to compare product or service specifications and price at a glance. As a result, the simplicity of comparing prices from different shops could lead to major price war between stores. However, many stores are seeing this as an opportunity to compete in quality and offerings.

As an introduction to one of my future posts:

Companies are aware of these new consumer trends. Therefore, they are creating and maintaining online fan communities where consumers can interact in order to exchange their impressions and questions related to the company’s products. Be it on Facebook Twitter or, it is better to have these communities under control and know how to manage them.

Knowing the importance of a good online image, many companies have thought about sponsoring blogs and reviewers to influence in their opinions and the way they speak about their products. Nevertheless, time has proven that attempting to influence customers with fictitious arguments is a totally wrong approach.

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