When I walk into a store, I'm usually there for one of several reasons: 1) I know exactly what I'm looking for 2) I have an idea what I'm looking for, but need more information to make my decision and 3) I have no idea what I'm looking for and just want to browse. Other factors that may influence my final decision to buy are: the availability of stock, quality of merchandising, likeability and knowledge level of customer service reps, whether or not there are any deals or promotions that day, and overall trust in the brand (potential product purchase and/or store brand).
The things I look for when shopping and the thought processes I use to make my final purchase decision are no different than when I'm looking to make a purchase online. In the digital realm, I need to know that a website can answer all my questions before I make a purchase decision. My final decision will be based on two factors: 1) Is the website useful (ie. did it answer all my questions and was it trustworthy) and 2) Is the website useable (ie. did I feel comfortable using the site...did the links work...was it easy to read and navigate?)
When designing a website, it helps to keep business objectives in mind. To do this effectively, companies need more than just an understanding of technology, they need a strong understanding of people. Companies who cater to customers' needs by treating them as emotional human beings will establish loyalty far beyond that ever imagined in traditional marketing environments.
When I interviewed Bill Dupley (then Director of Strategy and Business Development for Hewlett-Packard Consulting Canada) for my 2002 Marketing Magazine article on online customer experiences, he explained that customers enter buying situations in different behavioural modes. He said that it was the job of marketers to define which state the buyer was in, and then to design an experience based on the customer's needs and expectations. According to Dupley, most sites "don't facilitate around what a customer wants to do," but "facilitate around what a company wants to tell."
Those from a scientific and academic background would agree. In his book "Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity", Web guru and user-advocate Jakob Nielsen says that "Usability rules the Web. Simply stated, if the customer can't find a product, then he or she will not buy it. The Web is the ultimate customer-empowering environment. He or she who clicks the mouse gets to decide everything. It is so easy to go elsewhere; all the competitors in the world are but a mouseclick away."
To be effective, web marketers must incorporate social science into website design. Dupley's suggestion was to think in terms of "building Web stores, not Web sites."
In the internet economy, Return on Investment will be a result of Return on Interaction. When designing a website, take me to that store. Make my experience as close as possible to the real thing, and make me feel good about your company by making your site trustworthy and easy to use. If you can do that, you will outperform your competition by transforming cybersurfers into loyal and paying customers.