What’s the Difference?

What are the similarities and differences between the shopping experiences on the Internet vs. the “brick-and-mortar” world?

How can the website owner help a customer online vs. the real world? Why are shoppers abandoning websites without making a purchase?

How does one cater to “brick-and-mortar” customers on the Internet and make them comfortable on a website?

This article will elaborate and explain the differences in the shopping experience (and customer satisfaction) between the two shopping worlds. The days when simply creating a website and getting shoppers to order your products online are long gone. At this time of intense competition on the Internet, a website must provide a satisfactory shopping experience or lose the customer.

Websites can’t present a smile and ask “May I help you?”
While a store has its doors open, someone is usually watching customers and notices when a customer does not make a purchase or is about to leave the store. The customary “May I help you” is offered to a customer entering or leaving the store without a purchase, (to provide them a pleasant buying experience and to ensure that they were able to find what they are looking for). If a customer is looking for something the store does not offer, this is a good time to do market research to see what may be in demand. At the least the customer will feel cared for by getting some help finding what they came looking for.

So what happens on a website?
The only feedback the site owner gets relative to customer satisfaction is the order count, the abandoned shopping carts count, (all relative to the total visitor count), except for the occasional tirade of dissatisfied and brash customers who got extremely frustrated by something. A customer survey may help, but these can be time-consuming, expensive and biased since customers frequently tell you what they think you want to hear and not necessarily what they truly feel. The only true feedback is purchases, as the true measure of how a website (store) is performing.

There is a difference between a “brick-and-mortar” and a website environment for the customer experience.
In a real store customers come to browse, touch, smell, look and experience the merchandise. On a website customers come to look at price and availability and are either just doing research or are ready to make a purchase. Consider the amount of time spent on weekends at shopping malls across the country. The number of individual store visits in a mall environment far exceeds the number of purchases made. This fact illustrates the common practice of shoppers in a mall spending time browsing, socializing and not simply focusing on entering a store, making a purchase and getting-out.

The shopping experience in the physical world is multisensory, involving all of our sensory organs.
For example; in electronics stores customers will come to listen to the sound, experience the video picture, try the telephones, while in a food store shoppers touch and smell the fruit, smell the cheeses, look at the color of the meats and in clothing stores they will try on the merchandise, feel the fabrics, look at different styles and see how the colors and patterns coordinate, etc.

The experience on the web is significantly different.
The only two sensory experiences we are able to have on the Web are the severely limited visual and auditory experiences. These experiences are not “real” in the sense that we are unable to see the actual merchandise; we can only see a two-dimensional image of it on our video displays. We cannot listen to the true full spectrum sound; we can only hear the sound reproduced by our usually limited spectrum sound, emanating from the computer based sound system. In fact Internet shoppers are much more likely to want to buy, as opposed to simply browsing.

In the brick-and-mortar world clerks can ask the customer what they are looking for.i
If shoppers do not find what they are looking for, they are very likely to ask for help in locating the item, asking about pricing and other product parameters like colors, size, styles, etc. If a website customers do not find what they are looking for, they are more likely to abandon the site and look for the product on another site than Email customer service and wait for a response. Consider the effort required to look for a specific product in the brick-and-mortar world, versus the Internet. If you drove to a store, a mall or to Main Street, how far would you have to go to find another store?

On the Internet, finding another “store” is only as far away as the next click or the next find on a search list.
Going from store to store in the real world involves driving, parking, walking or at least going to another level, perhaps at the other end of the mall. Going to another website on the Internet involves a couple of clicks of the mouse and is accomplished in a few seconds with no physical effort involved.

The look-and-feel of a website often attempts to mimic that of the physical store behind it,
in order to make the customer feel comfortable, since it may appear familiar to them. By offering the look of a physical store layout, limited to the search capabilities existing in a real store, the website will suffer from the limitations of the physical world. If the website however builds on the powerful capabilities of the Internet, it can offer extended searching functionality, detailed product information and comprehensive comparisons with other products. These database dependent capabilities are either impossible in the real world or would take extensive amount of time to achieve and display on demand. If a website combines the power of the Internet, while keeping the look-and-feel of the real store, it is much more likely to offer a satisfying experience for its existing and new real world customers in bringing them back again and again.

How does one leverage the difference between the real world and the Internet?
That answer lies in keeping in mind the following:

Leverage the unique qualities of the real store and its products.
Combine the special look-and-feel of the real store with Internet functionality.
Minimize need and offer chat or other capabilities to replace customer service in a real store?
Track your competition on the Internet and know the kind of shopping experience they offer.
Know how important the shopping experience is to your customers, between the brick-and-mortar world and the Internet for your type of product.