A digital consumer is one who interacts with digital modes of technology in order to purchase products, interact with businesses, read peer consumer reviews, etc. Providing a digital experience, more often than not online, is a must for businesses today. The majority of the world is now busy living their lives digitally and usually via a convenient App. Shopping, banking, music streaming, television watching, exercising, learning and chatting are just some of the many online activities of the digital consumer.
Digital device usage has increased substantially over the last few years. As a result many consumer research studies have been conducted in a bid to understand the effect of this adoption on consumer behaviour; specifically its impact on product research and purchasing behaviour.
As far back as 2013, Econsultancy found aged adults aged 35 to 44 are the most active tablet users in both the US (15%) and the UK (21%). They also found that smartphone usage in both countries is particularly high when researching a retail purchase, standing at almost a quarter of respondents (24% in UK and 22% in US). In contrast, financial services products are less likely to be researched on a mobile device; only 9% of US and 7% of UK adults use their smartphone in this way... but all percentages have only risen.
Another study pubished more recently in the Harvard Business Review found that having to wait 10 seconds for a page to load can make 50% of consumers give up and leave. Researchers at Microsoft even found that a website begins losing traffic to competitors when it takes 250 milliseconds longer to load! It seems that when digital consumers have a less than favourable online experience, they fault the company immediately. To these shoppers, there’s no satisfactory excuse for a poor digital experience.
So let’s have a look at some primary online market research methods to ensure that your product and/or service offering meets the shopping experience expectations of the digital consumer, today and tomorrow.
5 Methods to Measure and Develop the Online Shopping Experience
1. Online Feedback Forums
Feedback forums can be used to discuss and prompt on any element of the online shopping experience from research to purchase to after sales service. Depending on your aims and the platform you choose, topics and threads can be defined by you and you only, or by your digital consumer forum members or both. Transcripts can then be exported for analysis. Whether the discussion is spontaneous or predetermined, consumer or business led, forums are ideal for ongoing online shopping experience feedback.
2. Structured Research Tasks
Structured online research tasks can take many forms and include both qualitative and quantitative methods. Using structured tasks in your digital shopping experience evaluation will ensure that your objectives are fulfilled. They allow you to ask participants specific questions, be they direct or projective, open or closed. And they provide a platform for activity setting, e.g. you can give participants specific instructions in relation to shopping online, what to buy, where and when, etc. and then asking them to feedback about this particular experience. This activity based task approach is ideal for user journey exploration.
You may also want to consider online suggestion boxes for consumer led feature ideation, interactive whiteboards for a dedicated review of website creatives, focus groups for deliberative development and of course a good old survey to validate.
3. Digital Customer Satisfaction Tracking
Regular feedback in the form of digital customer satisfaction tracking surveys shows patterns in digital consumer attitudes towards your brand. Company shortfalls both in the short term and over time are highlighted with tracking data. If you already have a customer satisfaction tracking programme but don’t feel it is earning its keep anymore, it may well be that a programme update is required. Paul Hudson wrote a great blog recently on modernising you customer satisfaction tracking programme without increasing your budget.
4. Digital Consumer Panels
A panel of digital consumers gives businesses and brands instant and continuous access to shopping experience feedback and opinions. Both the structured tasks referred to in point 2, the forums referred to in point 1 and any number of other online research tasks be they structured or unstructured can be created for completion by all panel members and / or sub groups can be recruited to project specific areas. This readily available profiled participant database provides a cost efficient option for those with continuous research schedules.
5. Social Media Monitoring
Whether you are asking for it or not your digital consumers will feedback about your brand via social media. And they will do so via every means available to them: text, images and video. This feedback is unprompted and freely administered by the consumer making it very valuable. In addition to the proactive feedback collection methods outlined above I would always advise monitoring this ever present online data flow as far as possible. Text and sentiment analysis tools can support such endeavours.
Shopping experiences online and offline are completely different. Online shopping for example can be done in front of the TV in pyjamas where in-store shopping requires getting dressed (for the most part), and making the physical effort to visit a shop. Whilst the in-store shopping experience is influenced by staff and other shoppers in a tangible and immediate environment, the online shopping experience is largely influenced by digital events. As such, a different approach to measurement and development is required.
The methods outlined above may be utilised according to your online shopping experience insight objectives, but however you choose to go about capturing digital consumer feedback I would always advise an online and / or mobile market research approach. Digital consumers are much more likely to participate in studies taking place in their preferred environment. And they will be more comfortable doing so. That means a greater number of responses, richer feedback, accurate outcomes, and perhaps… the difference between digital customers and non-customers.