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Do web shoppers care only about deals?

A client expressed his heartfelt belief today about what his Web customers are like–they care only about a deal. They seem to tune out any information except for a direct offer. He told me, to prove his point, that his Web site has nothing but sales information and his competitors take the exact same approach. Why, he lamented, don’t they care about our superior service and quality? I think I know why.


I’d like tell a story about a group of missionaries trying to discover the favorite food of the people they encountered. One group returned exclaiming, “It’s meat! They love meat!” Another came back and said, “Bread! It’s bread!” and so it went through several food groups, which is how things go when you test food preferences with starving people. Whatever you give them, it seems like the only thing they want.
Such is often the case with our Web sites, too. Your customers might be starving for information but you’ve never provided any, so you don’t think that’s what they want. You and your competitors have fed them a steady diet of catalog copy and sales pitches and so that’s what you think they want. In truth, you might never have tried anything else.
Or, you tried a couple of things that didn’t work and then you stopped. So, is the client right when he says that Web customers don’t care about superior quality and service? I have no idea. But what I do know is that no one cares about the flabby promises of “superior quality and service.”
What does that phrase mean? What is so all-fired superior about your service? Is it your no-hassle return policy? How does that work?
And why is your quality any higher than anyone else’s? Don’t you sell the same stuff as every other retailer? Or, as a manufacturer, how exactly are your products any better than anyone else’s?
I personally believe that to succeed on the Web you need to differentiate. There’s only one lowest price, and technology is making it easier and easier to find who has it. If it’s not you, then how do you compete? The answer is to offer something other than a commodity. If your site looks the same and smells the same as everyone else’s and you sell the same products as everyone else, then why should anyone do anything except take the lowest price?
But I have personally shopped at Amazon to buy the exact same thing I could have bought cheaper elsewhere. Why? Because I trust them to actually ship it when they say they will. Because it was less of a hassle to type in all my information. Because I didn’t have to stare the site down to know if I should trust them or to check their return policy. In short, I paid for convenience and piece of mind.
If you are a manufacturer, rather than a retailer, it’s even easier. You must be able to explain how your product or service is better than the competition’s. And do it with facts, not vague platitudes. What awards have you won? What customer testimonials can you show? Can you show objective evidence that your product is better? Don’t tell people, “The #1 in its field.” No one cares. Give them information that they can check for veracity.
I believe that, for most products, people are hungry for information. They really want you to explain it to them. They spend a lot of time on the Web looking for reasons why they should buy something and, especially, why they should buy from you. If you give them the rationale they need, you will sell to them, and for a higher price than if you just gave them your standard catalog spiel.
Think about how your catalog sells today. Some sales are made straight from the catalog, but many more are made only after a few questions to your telesales rep on the phone. If you answer those questions on your Web site (and more), how many more people will you persuade?
If all your competitors are offering straight product information on their sites, maybe you should zig when they zag. After all, you can’t differentiate by doing what everyone else does.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar Dayne

    Mike,
    Another very relevant post. I work in the catalog world full-time (and the social networking world during the other part/full-time).
    It seems to be a difficult task for myself and every one at work to differentiate between catalog buyers and Internet buyers.
    We’re still trying to figure out what our customers are looking for in our industry besides just products.
    Like you mention with Amazon, it has to go beyond the product and actually provide added value throughout the customer’s buying process.
    I hope you can give more insight into this topic!
    Thanks again,
    Dayne
    PS: I’m about halfway through your book and it’s excellent thus far. You have a really great “voice” for writing.

  2. Avatar Mike Moran

    Thanks, Dayne. I will try to talk more about this in the coming weeks.

  3. Avatar Frank Reed

    Hey I used that guy on my blog!

  4. Avatar Mike Moran

    That’s funny, Frank. I guess he gets around. 🙂

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