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What drives customer loyalty when shopping online?

For a long time now, retailers have considered the rise of online shopping as a big factor driving the death of customer loyalty. “Customers are fickler than ever”, say the industry blogs, the thinking being that online customers prioritise price more than in-store shoppers, and they’ll buy wherever they can get the best deal. It certainly makes sense, and the data backs it up, with a 2019 research report finding that low price trumped other options for over half (57 per cent) of Australian online shoppers. But does this mean customers are really fickler than ever? Or have customers always been this fickle, and online shopping just exposes it?

The point is that making a purchase has always been a balance between several factors – convenience, price, trust, scarcity, habit and perceived status to name a few – but online shopping, while highly convenient, in a way takes convenience out of the equation because it’s almost always just as easy to shop at one online retailer as it is another.

So why do we choose to shop at the online stores that we do, when the online experience between shopping at retailer A and retailer B is pretty much identical, and assuming the pricing is exactly the same? Let’s take a look.

It’s not price (they’re the same price), it’s not convenience (it’s just as easy to shop at online retailer A as it is B), it’s not scarcity (I know it’s in stock in several places, the websites tell me so), it’s less likely to be perceived status (no one is going to see me walking in or out of store carrying a branded shopping bag), it’s not because I’ve fallen prey to the Jedi mind-tricks of an in-store salesperson (I’m shopping online), so what is it?

Good UX? Good SEO? Free, easy returns? Hygiene factors.

Perceived faster receipt of goods? Maybe. ‘Loyalty’ points? Maybe, but if everyone offers them, what’s the double difference? Could it be excellent design sitewide paired with an immaculately crafted tone of voice? Now we’re getting somewhere. According to research by Rareform New Media, 48% of people cited a website’s design as the number one factor in deciding the credibility of a business, and more than 90% of online purchase decisions are influenced by visual factors.

Consider Amazon for a second. Good UX? Always. Truly excellent design sitewide? Until quite recently, absolutely not. But have you noticed how much they’ve upped their design and language game in the last couple of years? Same with eBay.

To our way of thinking, with COVID-19 further accelerating the rise of online shopping, your online store absolutely must be given just as much brand-love as your real-world stores. The good news is that it’s much easier to tweak design and language on your website than it is in your real-world stores.


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