This research paper will compare and contrast the characteristics of the traditional brick and mortar (B&M) shopper with those of the online shopper. Additionally, research will identify the similarities and differences between the virtual and the real-world customer. Distinguish the difference between the world of e-commerce and the real world in terms of customer communications. Determine which traditional customer communications can and cannot be successfully ported to the world of e-commerce. Assess what new communications techniques are uniquely available in the world of e-commerce. And demonstrate how the use of multimedia technologies creates effective e-commerce websites. Discussion of customer communication strategies and real-world examples will be presented.
Compare and Contrast Models
Brick and mortar shoppers go to a specific building to purchase merchandise. The location has a physical presence which allows for customers to have face to face communication with employees. Online shoppers are able to log on and search for items and make purchases from the comfort of their own home. Online shoppers have some advantages to brick and mortar shoppers for this reason.
Several factors can be used to compare and contrast differences between brick and mortar shoppers and their counterparts. Pricing will have an impact due to unavoidable expenses such as travel. An online store has very little overhead. This allows the cost for retail display space, and storage costs to be minimized. Additionally, online shoppers can do factory direct. This further reduces the warehousing costs. This allows the online shoppers to take advantage of additional savings made possible by avoiding these additional costs. Brick and mortar stores will incur unavoidable costs. A location must be erected involving utility expenses. A brick and mortar store will need to hire employees thus wages would also be involved. Maintaining the location will bring additional costs as well. In addition, theft may also be a factor. These factors may make the cost on a shopper higher than an online shopper.
Selection will vary online as compared to the local needs and demands of brick and mortar stores. Online stores usually specialize in a particular area. Due to this specialization it may be easier for an online shopper to find hard to find items that may or may not be available in a brick and mortar store. Online shoppers may find more items due to the international demand of different items. Both men and women can choose from online items. On the other hand, brick and mortar locations are more dependent on local demand. If the demand in Miami for coats and jackets is minimal as compared to New York, then the brick and mortar shopper in Miami will find fewer choices at higher prices. Additionally, many items in a brick and mortar store may only be offered seasonally. This would have negative results for a shopper looking for items out of season.
Convenience may also be a factor due to live interaction versus the online experience. Brick and mortar shoppers will have the ability of touch and feel. This will give the brick and mortar shopper a stronger connection with purchasing the item or not. The online shopper would not have to drive anywhere, waste gas, dress up, or look for parking. He or she may simply navigate the web site in search of the particular item they may be interested in. State taxes may even be avoided by purchasing items online versus at a brick and mortar store. Delivery charges may be avoided for brick and mortar shoppers. They may simply purchase the item and take the item directly from the store. There may be items that are too big and bulky. Delivery charges will definitely apply in these circumstances. Online shoppers will have to incur delivery charges every time. The delivery charges may be hidden within the price of the item. The online shopper may not realize he or she was charged a delivery fee. This tactic allows online shopping to feel less expensive and more practical.
A warranty may be similar for both shoppers. Online shoppers and brick and mortar shoppers will tend to have the same type of warranty. The warranty will be provided by the manufacturer. Although brick and mortar stores may do the servicing themselves, usually this is handled by the manufacturer. Finally, returns may be handled more conveniently for brick and mortar shoppers. Brick and mortar shoppers will know exactly the procedure they will be involved with when they speak to someone. Although most online stores allow returns the shopper may be dealing with a distant entity. The returned item will incur shipping costs and restocking fees. Dealing with an employee face to face may be much more convenient and practical when involved in any kind of return.
Site Design and Customer Needs
When designing an e-commerce site, the designer needs to consider the similarities and differences between the virtual and traditional real-world customer environments, what forms of communication are uniquely available to the e-commerce customer and what communication forms cannot successfully be ported to the world of e-commerce.
The first area would be that the e-commerce site designer needs to understand both the similarities and differences between the virtual and traditional real-world customer environments as well as to recognize the differences in communication types. Primarily organizations need to realize that managing communications can be more difficult for both the virtual worker and customer because these individuals are not physically present in an office location to have verbal and physical confirmation of a message or order. Some other factors include differences in time zones, local work hours and holidays, fluency with English especially technical language (and organizational acronyms), cultural norms, hierarchical protocols for message dissemination and responsiveness. Sometimes the only common ground between the virtual and real-world customers is the organizational jargon and acronyms.
The second area would be to assess what new communication techniques are uniquely available in the world of e-commerce and to determine what traditional customer communications can and cannot be successfully ported to the world of e-commerce. Three communication choices that are uniquely available to organizations of all sizes in the world of e-commerce are the Internet, Intranet and Extranet. Benefits of using this technology include attracting new customers, creating new business partners, improving communication with customers, employees, shareholders, and stakeholders. Additional benefits of increasing productivity, improving the quality of service, reducing operating costs and providing information quickly and cost effectively can be derived.
Internet communication choices can include:
Discussion mailing lists
Instant messaging and chat
Intranets are an organization’s privately owned network and accessible by employees or authorized vendors and requires a logon and password. Employees are easily able to access important company information such as employee benefits, corporate policies, career opportunities, and training material. Extranets are a type of external intranet. Access includes employees and is opened to vendors and customers. A logon and password is also required. The unmediated real-time communication types such as one-to-one conversations, speeches, presentations, and in-person meetings are forms of traditional customer communications that would not be successfully ported to the world of e-commerce.
The third area would be for the site designer to demonstrate how through the use of multimedia technologies one can create an effective e-commerce site for the customer. Using these technologies, organizations can remain competitive while meeting the needs of the customer in three main areas: quality, price and service. As to meeting customer service expectations, that customer service means the same thing on the web as it does in a physical store: It encompasses all those efforts that go into making customers feel wanted, appreciated, and that they are dealing with a business that will offer them quality products at fair prices. On the Web, in the absence of actual merchandise and salespeople to answer questions, customer service must literally be built into the fabric of a business website.
Customer Communication Strategies
Enumerable communication strategies can be employed with e-commerce on a website. Efficient and effective uses of web tools are a key factor to enhance a customer’s visit to the website. Generally, most companies will implement strategies that are easy to use and target a larger market. But strategies for niche marketing, either under the umbrella of the parent site or as a standalone tool are avenues of commerce that must be applied as well.
With the greater number of online businesses, and potential customers, companies are turning to Customer Support Chat to expedite resolution of customer issues. This program is starting to gain momentum as it allows interaction with a representative quickly and has the potential for increased sales due to immediate response. Even though chat programs are efficient many customers are unwilling to share their personal information on the internet. This issue is part of the website design process that is called the backend of the program. This is where issues of security and customer relations management are addressed prior to building an ecommerce website, capable of doing online business. Individual companies, such as PayPal have aided the small business entrepreneur by offering secure payment methods for the transfer of securities online at affordable rates. These combined with online shopping carts have greatly enhanced the customer buying experience.
Companies use email as a standard for easy written support and service. It allows for contact in a familiar fashion with the customer and avoids the need for waiting on hold for a customer service representative. This option works very well for individuals who do not need an immediate response. It does not allow for extremely detailed or visual answers.
Another strategy many companies are turning to is audio and video approaches for real-time access to information that may not be understood in a written format. This approach allows for customers to review information via streaming audio or video. This type of information sharing is one-way communication but does allow for interactive or real-time access through the addition of video conferencing. This type of strategy works very well for training and for customers who require visual or audio to help with their learning or understanding of information. For customers in need of further direction or explanation, on the company’s contact page use a form with a comments section, company physical address, and customer service phone and fax numbers.
Sourcing a contact center is a necessity for many companies in order to correct issues in billing, sales, or technical support. This strategy allows the company to support their customers through personal contact and access to professionals that can solve their problem or explain their bill. This strategy will continue to exist as many individuals are unwilling to move to the next level of customer support through the use of web tools.
Internal customers are also a critical part of e-commerce. Employee’s must be well trained at their jobs, and are up-to-date on company roles, policies and procedures. In order to source internal customers the company needs to incorporate an internal site, known as an intranet. Since these internal customers are the first contact to the external customer it becomes imperative that they are trained effectively, thus giving the first internal strategy, which is the need for training tools and education documentation that is easily accessible and allows the internal customer assistance when working with an external customer. Along with any strategy are needed options for assisting employees to understand the information being disseminated through the intranet! This strategy allows for networking an organization through an internal means that is secure and accessible for the whole company. This strategy is becoming a leading trend for most companies effectively to cut cost on travel and time for employees while still enabling human interface and interaction.
Overall the strategies needed for customer support are to allow for a pleasant experience for the customer, whether local or distant, internal or external. The options available over the internet and intranet are numerous and only a few are depicted here, most of the strategies needed by companies are as individual as the company itself and much thought needs to be put into which is the right solution for the company’s customer base.
This paper has in its analysis of e-commerce from the customer’s point of view compared and contrasted the characteristics of the traditional bricks and mortar (B&M) shopper with those of the online shopper. Research has identify the similarities and differences between the virtual and the real-world customer, distinguish the difference between the world of e-commerce and the real world in terms of customer communications, determine which traditional customer communications can and cannot be successfully ported to the world of e-commerce. Additionally, new communications techniques were discussed and examples were demonstrated on how the use of multimedia technologies creates effective e-commerce websites. Discussion of customer communication strategies and real-world examples were presented. Analysis through research has led to the conclusion that, ecommerce from the customer’s point of view, can be defined as offering the customer the tools that can most efficiently bring about the result of; customer satisfaction and retention.