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As American consumers grow ever more familiar with, and dependent on, online shopping, expectations about the quality of their online shopping experience increase dramatically, and the stakes get higher for retailers, writes Retailer Daily.

Power shoppers – those who shop online at least three times per month – have the highest expectations, according to the fourth annual Allurent Holiday Online Shopping Survey (cosponsored by Endeca Technologies), which queried shoppers about the quality of the 2008 online holiday shopping season.

Among power shoppers, 73% report that their expectations have increased since last year, compared with 60% of total respondents.

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The survey reflects the maturation of e-commerce as novices grow into veteran online shoppers and reveals implications for retailers:

  • Most respondents (57%) consider themselves “sophisticated online shoppers” and want retailers to “try new and different things on their sites.”

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  • Power shoppers are even more self-assured and open to e-commerce innovation, with 68% describing themselves as sophisticated.

Differentiation a Key Site Improvement

Half (51%) of online shoppers said they prefer a unique, interactive online shopping experience because they find it more informative and feel that it gives them a better sense of the merchandise.

But, shoppers do not see this preferred uniqueness or innovation on the web today. Almost half (45%) say that all sites seem the same, with price and availability of merchandise the only main differentiators.

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This gap between what shoppers want – innovation – and what they find – sameness – represents a significant opportunity for online retailers in a difficult economy, Allurent said.

Online Consumers Seek Freshness, Innovation

Freshness and innovation topped the list of online shopper demands, indicating a growing need for retailers to update their sites with new shopping features and merchandise. Power shoppers demand freshness of content and experience-related features, with 93% indicating this to be a critical need.

Among experience features, shoppers prioritize as follows: (1) ease of browsing and finding what they’re looking for; (2) clear, accessible? product information; and (3) an easy-to-use checkout process.

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For ease of browsing and finding what they are looking for, the survey suggested “discovery” was especially important to engage power shoppers: 85% stated that they purchased previously unknown items while shopping on a particular site, whereas 75% of all online shoppers have had a successful serendipitous shopping discovery.

Graeme Grant, COO at Allurent, concluded, “The survey makes clear that the majority of consumers are now very comfortable with e-commerce. The question retailers now must ask themselves is: ‘What are we doing to meet the higher expectations of these sophisticated shoppers?’ In 2009, I think we will see that those retailers who continue to innovate on their online shopping sites are the winners, while those who do not are left behind.”

About the findings: The 2008 Holiday Online Shopping Survey was designed to provide insights into shoppers’ opinions of the online shopping experience, and how the experience affects their buying decisions. The survey was conducted online in January, 2009 and is based on 591 respondents (45% male, 55% female).

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