Discerning consumers and their overall shopping experiences are the focal point for successful commerce these days. They are demanding better customer service, and companies both big and small, old and new—are scrambling to deliver them in a way that meet modern consumer expectations. Quickly slipping away are the days when vendor-related content alone sold products and services. Today, the new social currency for making money are the actual consumers themselves. Now anyone with a cellphone, tablet or personal computer can become a product advocate, shepherd, and advertiser.
Consumer behavior and action is based mostly on age.
Gender, income and geographical location are surely important factors in how consumers shop, but age is the largest variable in how, why, and where consumers shop. It really doesn’t matter what gender you are or where you reside, the largest contrast in shopping inclinations are with consumers of different ages in a few key areas. The main difference is that men are not as digitally inclined as women tend to be. Men usually prefer plain text when writing reviews, while women like both text and pictures. Men usually prefer voice assistants when buying products, while women like social media. Men also prefer phoning and in-store visits, while women prefer social media and live chatting with a brand representative.
As consumers grow older, things naturally change in their behavioral shopping. Younger consumers crave visual content, are more likely to prefer social media for engaging with and purchasing from brands—and are the most trusting. The most likely to submit photos and videos alongside their reviews are Millennials. They also prefer more user-generated visual content on product pages. Older shoppers prefer expert content reviews of products and want more of them on the content page. This is more than likely related to the fact that they prefer a higher level of expertise—and are the least trusting of product reviews from other consumers. And, regardless of age, consumers do make purchases based on brand reputation.
The trust generated by consumers is more definite these days.
Consumers look over a wide spectrum of people when it comes to reviews, recommendations, and content to make informed purchase decisions. And, whom they trust the most isn’t always clear cut. Consumers are inclined to seek out product experts—and micro-influencers and away from reviews from people they perceive to be inauthentic—usually cyberspace trolls and celebrities. They want to feel safe and secure in their purchase decision, and be confident it will meet their expectations, and have faith in whom they’re buying from. The majority of consumers will only have faith in the brands they can trust.
Before the advent of online shopping, consumers had only friends, family, co-workers and actual store employees for leveraging input when making a purchase decision. However, while consumers can still lean on these resources, there’s an almost overwhelming abundance of information about products available now, including reviews and recommendations from customers, product ambassadors, celebrity influencers, and others. Modern consumers are able to thoroughly weed through what and whom they find credible. And, because of this, brands and retailers have to reexamine how they approach their brand backing.
Progressive and savvy companies now realize that brand authenticity starts with embracing honest dialogue. They must now welcome both positive and negative feedback from consumers. This can easily be accomplished by employing a variety of tactics to generate reviews from consumers from post-interaction emails, sweepstakes, sampling campaigns, and similar devices. Companies also need to facilitate reviews from product experts and seek influencers who focus on a particular interest area and have a core group of followers—people that honestly love a particular product. Though, the meat and potatoes of consumer trust are reviews from other consumers. (Individuals that consumers identify to be everyday normal customers just like them.) At the core of this spectrum is trust; it all comes down to real people. In the end, consumers want to purchase from people they can trust. Not only does a brand need to make a definitive statement, but satisfied consumers must also mirror it.
Consumers now guide product content and page direction.
Traditional product pages have shifted from a catalog of product descriptions and complementary photos to a bountiful compilation of UGC (User-Generated Content). Today, not only do consumers prefer recommendations from real people, they also are shopping directly with each other. This is done through platforms that use social media and e-commerce in innovative manners.
Today, most of the content on a page contain product facts and specifications with a short and long description, quality images, and selling price. However, consumers now have a rapidly growing role in additional page collateral. Consumers are now turning first to these extras to make purchase decisions based on reviews, ratings, Q&A, and customer photos.
We have now arrived at a time where professional product information is being replaced by UGC and opinions from real consumers. Brand-provided information will soon shift lower on the product page, to be replaced by what consumers really want to see. That is to say, more reviews and visual content from other users—real people. In the near future, consumer preferences for social commerce apps and websites may completely eliminate the product page as we now know it.
Not only do consumers trust fellow consumers, they want to buy from other people. Instead of being told about a product, they want to be shown the product in use. Product descriptions are the product in theory—consumers want the product in practice, which they can get from well-intentioned UGC. To address this, brands will be including more types of UGC on their product pages and beyond. Using long-form content from experts to in-depth video reviews, product pages will evolve to make UGC the dominant focus.
This transitioning away from traditional product pages are already playing out one step further in two different but related trends: social commerce and re-commerce (Instagram, Pinterest, and Tiktok). In both of these examples, shopping revolves around people selling to each other, with brands playing a supporting role. Additionally, buying from a secondhand marketplace (also known as re-commerce) is becoming increasingly popular with consumers for a variety of reasons. In the past five years, stores selling used merchandise have grown faster than traditional apparel retailers.
Leverage consumer feedback in your favor.
The modern consumer is so interconnected right now that they can reach out at any moment, and they have lofty expectations for what they expect in return. Sellers that wisely meet these expectations will be greatly rewarded. And if not, then a brand may become the next contentious internet sensation, for all the wrong reasons. Consumers at any given moment, can now leave an online review, or directly message a brand on social media, call a customer service hotline, use a website’s chat function, or even head in-store to talk directly to a store associate or manager. In simple terms, there’s always a way for consumers to get in touch with a brand, and they have very clear expectations for how they want them to be listening.
When it comes to reviews left on a product page, consumers always expect to hear back. It doesn’t matter if their review is positive or negative. Most consumers will be expecting a response in public. And, taking the time to respond to all reviews, and more specifically to negative reviews, can pay off in a bonanza for businesses. Most consumers will consider giving a brand another chance if it took the time to respond to negative reviews from them. Rapid response to negative reviews shows unhappy consumers that a company actually cares, and will take action after feedback, and responding to positive reviews is an opportunity to turn a happy consumer into a repeat consumer, in addition to becoming a brand advocate.
When consumers leave a review on your site, that review in theory, stays contained. Granted, other consumers and competitors may read it, but the ramifications and reach of the review generally stay within the walls of that website. For both brands and consumers, it’s hard to tell what’s going to go viral. But the best practices for responding to reviews also apply to social media. A brand that is prepared to handle issues that arise with honesty and tact, will prevent a downward spiral. Staying on top of social activity involving a brand and products, being prepared to answer social media posts quickly, and be willing to admit fault and take action will win in the long run by strengthening a brand.
Brand trust is interwoven with cost and convenience in the mind of consumers.
Just as consumers demand an immediate response from brands, they also demand instant gratification from their shopping experiences. That being said, they also want to connect with brands on a deeper level, creating somewhat of an enigma for businesses to navigate.
The demand for easy, cost-efficient shopping is not receding anytime soon. Consumers require minimal effort shopping, and brands and retailers have responded with services like BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In-Store) and specialized subscription offerings, such as discount codes that lower overall shopping expenses. Not only are consumers price motivated, wanting to save money, but also want to support brands that are aligned with them ideologically.
As world commerce evolves rapidly, businesses will have to balance between consumer demands for instant gratification and efficiency and their desire for authentic connections. Brands and retailers need to encourage their customers to tell their story for them. UGC not only helps consumers find, evaluate, and purchase products faster, it helps brands engage and connect with consumers through content they can trust. As more and more interactions move online, brands will need to tell the story of their products because consumers may never set foot in a store, interact with a human representative, or eventually even never visit a vendor website.
Now more than ever, consumers have considerable power over the state of commerce and what ultimately comes next. Brands and retailers who are willing to keep consumer needs in mind and try doing things quite differently will be rewarded in the long run. Maintaining an authentic business identity, coupled with responding positively to customer feedback and exploring new ways to sell will keep businesses relevant and relatable in the future.
Consumers will continue to build deeper connections amongst themselves and with the brands that have absolutely earned their trust. And as commerce continues to be more consumer-centric, it’s very crucial for brands to have earned that trust.