Today: October 22, 2021 9:01 am

The Big Secret About Online Consumer Behavior Revealed

There’s a secret every business owner wants to know the answer to.

How do consumers decide which business to do business with?

Obviously, once you’re in on the secret, you have a clear idea of how to target your marketing.

Well, uncovering that secret isn’t as hard as you might think. There’s a process people use, and consumer observers have seen this over and over.

If you have a small local business, regardless of the industry you are in, the process is the same. The pattern is very evident if you take the time to look for it.

What is the process? It consists of four basic steps.

Step 1: Perform an Online Search

The first thing potential consumers do is conduct an online search for the product or service they are interested in.

It doesn’t matter what it is they are looking for, consumers search for just about everything, and the data backs this up.

Before the internet came into being, marketers had to theorize what consumers were thinking as they made their buying decisions. Now with the data and analytics available from Google and other internet platforms, we can analyze exactly what consumers are doing.

And they start by searching online for that product or service they need.

It doesn’t matter if they need a dentist, a roofer, a handyman, AC repair, lawn care, a haircut, a lawyer, or pest control. You name it, people will start looking for it with an online search.

Step 2: Check out the Search Results

Once someone searches, they are presented with pages of search results. So the next obvious thing they do is visit some of the websites in the results. And just to be clear, consumers rarely look beyond the first page of results. If your business isn’t on the first page, very few people are going to your website.

And the second they click to go to a web site, they begin to evaluate the business that owns the site.

They look for the information they want about your product or service. Is it easy to find? Or difficult? They also make mental notes of how simple or hard it is to navigate the site.

These things form an impression of your brand.

And of course, most people will look at two or three different websites that come up in the search results. And they are comparing the websites.

For example, suppose someone is looking for a restaurant. They’ll look at the pictures on the website, at the pictures of the food, how attractive is the décor or ambiance. They’ll take a look at the menu to see what’s offered at what price.

If navigating the site is too confusing, they won’t waste time figuring it out. They’ll just go to the next restaurant on the list.

No matter what product or service they are looking for, if they easily can find pricing or other information quickly and easily, they’ll form a good impression of your business. If not, well, they most likely will move on to your competitor.

Step 3: Read Reviews

Once someone has compared a few websites, they’ll want some social proof before proceeding further. In other words, before taking the time to call, email, make an appointment, or go to the business, they’ll want some assurance that the promises made on the website will be kept.

So people will look to reviews to discover what other people’s experiences with the business have been.

Step 4: Make Contact

By this time, people have filtered out some of the choices. Maybe the website was slow and clunky. Or after looking at the pictures of the business, they decided they didn’t like the looks of the business, that it wasn’t the kind of place they would want to visit.

The filtering process usually includes price comparison. Once a consumer has narrowed their choices down to two or three they like, they’ll compare prices. For some services, like doctors or dentists, this would take the form of checking what insurance plans they take. But for others, the price could be a deal-breaker.

In any case, once they’ve selected one or two or three, only then will people make contact to pursue obtaining the product or service they want.

Now it comes down to customer service. How quickly does the business respond to messages, emails, or phone calls? How easy is it for the person to get an appointment or have a conversation, or get answers to specific questions?

So to recap, nearly every consumer in the digital age follows the same process.

First, they search online for the product or service they’re interested in.
Second, they open a few of the websites that show up on the first page of the search results. Maybe if they don’t find exactly what they want they’ll look on the second page. Maybe.

As they review the websites, they’ll be looking for specific information. If it’s easy to find, they’ll be favorably inclined to that brand. If not, they’ll move on to the next website.

Third, they’ll read reviews to help them filter out websites and to decide which to try first.

Fourth, they’ll do some price comparisons and make contact with the businesses on their list.

And that is the secret of the buying decision journey of consumers in the digital age. This would cover 80-90% of all buying decisions for products and services bought from local companies.

For more complex decisions, such as hiring a building contractor or an architect, a consumer might want more in-depth meetings or to review their portfolio. Or they might want to go through a process of getting multiple bids.

But to get to that point, your potential client will have gone through the first four steps. And if your marketing fails you at any point during that process, your business will suffer. Making sure your website can present you competitively in a way that gets consumers wanting to do business with you is the main task.

And to develop your website to do that, you need to keep consumer behavior in mind. If you act on this, you’ll be glad you’re in on the secret of consumer behavior.

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