These days, everybody, from Apple, to Google, to Amazon and Microsoft is trying to sell you hardware and apps. Speaking of Amazon (which will sell you anything as long as you ask nicely), it is only natural that our local market is positively teeming with local inspiration. Even brick and mortar stores, from superstores to chain restaurants and garment shops – all will be happy to deliver to you without you having to lay a step outside.
It’s a scary world out there. A new report by KPMG analyses the online shopping preferences and behaviour of more than 18,000 consumers in 51 countries, including the UAE. What was their biggest concern? Privacy.
As a bit of a tech enthusiast, I will take this opportunity to inform our readers that by the very act of logging into the internet via software provided by Google, Apple or Microsoft, you have signed your lives away. All you can hope for is that your private information remains safely with these corporate giants and they don’t sell it to third parties. Clicked ‘Accept’ without reading the fine print? Too bad.
However, now that we know that privacy is as fickle a concept as the internet itself, at least some service providers are using your data to help you. Google knows everything about you, so it will remind you of birthdays, track your packages, suggest optimal routes, look for parking spaces, keep you informed of the latest sports scores and remind you of bill payment deadlines.
The other thing it does is to push ads at you while you browse the web. Unbeknownst to most of us, the websites we frequent are often rearranged based on our browsing preferences. Similarly, once you have visited online shopping portals such as Homeshopping.pk or Daraz.pk enough times, they will display your preferred products on the landing page.
For me, this is one good that comes out of losing your privacy: only relevant content gets pushed to you.
Apart for ads and a promise of safety of your data, there is precious little (as of now) that can help an online shopping portal to retain their customers. Data safety, as demonstrated by the recent Yahoo disaster, is a fickle promise. As for value proposition, all brands are on the way towards commoditisation. There is no longer a meaningful separation between electronics and technology; often, our household purchases are price-driven. With little known Chinese companies challenging the technological dominance of the Sonys, Apples and Samsungs of this world and local brands, such as QMobile and Infinix (themselves front ends for Chinese manufacturers) hitting the pricey “bigger” brands hard, the product doesn’t matter.
So what matters?
There are a few factors which drive customer loyalty towards a particular online shopping portal:
1. Exclusive deals and partnerships
What do you do when that dress you liked but couldn’t afford suddenly appears with a 50% price drop? You just click 'Buy'. Can you see which online portal is selling it? Chances are, you can’t. Therefore, the more exclusive deals and partnerships a portal has, the more customers it will attract. Once a customer has bought four or five items from a portal that was genuinely cheaper, chances are he or she will frequent that website to see what latest deals are up.
2. Don’t underestimate the customer’s intelligence
Hey, we can tell that a particular phone costs around Rs 10,000, so you can’t get away by displaying the price as Rs 14,999 and then 'marking it down' to Rs 10,000. It insults your customer and although a few people may be lured, the majority of the thinking public will rarely return to that portal. The same principle also applies to brick and mortar stores.
3. Make it easy
Making it easy is more than splashing 'buy' buttons across the site. The process should be easy, requiring minimal input from a browser. It helps when portals allow ‘guests’ to make purchases, meaning that they don’t have to sign up and end up receiving a lifetime’s worth of spam in their email, besides going through a cumbersome process.
4. Customer-friendly policies
The disadvantage with online portals is that one cannot handle the goods, and basically one has to take the plunge when clicking the Buy button. It is necessary to have a robust and fair return policy and warranty, as goods bought online are regarded with more suspicion. There is a huge risk that if a customer receives sub-par goods with no recourse, he or she will give up online shopping forever. So if a customer is allowed to check the purchase before payment or if an easy return procedure is in place, everybody wins.
In the end, the same principles apply to online shopping portals as normal storefronts. Clarity, fairness and providing customers a reason to keep on visiting a web portal. These are the ingredients that give rise to the Amazons of this world. Happy shopping!