The rampant Internet age has brought about numerous changes in the business world. E-commerce is huge, companies can interact directly with their customers on social media, and opportunities for advertising are everywhere. And while in most cases that’s an advantage for businesses, in some cases it can also be their downfall.
The fluidity and easy access of the Internet means that brands have to compete for customers in different ways than they traditionally have. And rival companies are always willing to snatch up customers looking for a new and better deal. Product comparisons online have made shopping a very different experience than it was even a decade ago, as customers can do their research online and scout out the best deals before either buying the item in a virtual shopping cart or in the store. Above all, customers are looking for a shopping experience that trumps the rest, not necessarily the brand they’ve bought their entire lives.
In a recent study by United Kingdom-based F5 Networks, a survey of about 2,000 people showed that 22% of respondents said they would switch brands while shopping online if the company’s website or service didn’t work within five seconds. Technical director Gary Newe writes that 82% of those surveyed said that a fast website or app is important to them when they interact with a company. That level of importance is so high that 31% of people said they would stop purchasing a product altogether if the online experience was poor.
Customers might be loyal to an “experience” they have while shopping, Forbes says. But, “Once the experiential elements of brand engagement disappear, in many cases, so does the emotional connection consumers have with the brand that was providing them that unique experience.” Interone, a German-based marketing agency, states in a consumer report called “The Retail Revolution” that customer loyalties are frail. Customers’ emotional bonds to a certain brand are weak, and they tend to be pragmatic when making decisions about where to buy certain products. Often, price or convenience will win out over loyalty.
A survey of 6,000 consumers around the globe turned up even more significant results, particularly among people ages 18-34 shopping on mobile sites. “As brand loyalty is replaced by ‘experience loyalty’, marketers simply must capitalize on every moment they have with their customers, ensuring they deliver exceptional mobile experiences regardless of the device, location or context from which their visitors arrive,” said Daniel Weisbeck, CEO of web analytics company Netbiscuits. The tone from the People’s Web Report is clear: The “I want it now” mentality trumps sentimentality. Of those surveyed, 91% said they have switched to a competitor’s site if their mobile experience is found wanting. About one-third of people said they “often” or “very often” search elsewhere if a mobile experience isn’t what they expected.
There is often a divide among consumer behaviors by age group: Millennials who grew up around mobile devices are also the ones who have the highest expectations. Among consumers ages 25-34, 90% of respondents said they recommend brands based on their mobile sites, and almost 40% make those types of recommendations “often” or “very often.” However, the flip side is that younger users generally perceive their experiences to be worse than the experiences of older consumers.
But the biggest challenge is that websites are slowing down, not speeding up. In tests of the top 500 online retailers, Radware found that 86% were not delivering a quality user experience to consumers. The median top 100 retailers use websites that took an average of 6.2 seconds to load primary data and 10.7 seconds to fully load. About 17% took 10 or more seconds just to become interactive. Overall, website loading speeds decreased by 27% in 2014, compared to the year before.
One potential cause for the slowdown is the growing size of webpages. As companies seek to offer more resources, their websites become more bulky. In fact, the median page grew by 67% from 2013 to 2014, Radware reported. But the company does offer a solution: In many cases, the slower speeds can be fixed by optimizing photo sizes and making sure multimedia files are formatted correctly. The site also offers other suggestions for formatting scripts and other design elements so that pages load faster, and provide users more of a reason to stay on the site.
And just as in most situations, answers to these problems are always being discovered. IBM, for example, is advertising its z13 infrastructure as being able to “run billions of complex transactions and respond to mobile users at sub-second speeds.” Other solutions can’t be far behind.