Guest author Ori Karev is general manager of enterprise and the U.S. CEO of Gett, an on-demand purveyor of ground transportation.
Back in the 80s and the 90s, companies worked hard on their interactions with consumers. Everything was about communicating correctly. Legions of experts taught employees how to speak with clients. Others worked on corporate communications materials.
Then came the first decade of the new millennium and the brave new world of the smartphone took off. More than 2 billion smartphones are now being used and more people surf the internet on their smartphones than on computers or tablets.
As we’ve become more connected, our behavior as consumers is also changing at the speed of light. Our experiences have shifted from touching linen and food in a store or restaurant, to touching our screens and knowing what we’ll get before we buy. Instead of traveling to the supermarket or standing impatiently on the curb to hail a cab, people use their smartphones to streamline tasks.
In this environment, products or services either succeed or fail in minutes or days, not weeks or months. Consumerism has shifted from a world of physical images and personal communication to a world of imagery and perception. Regardless of industry, product or service, vendors that enable instantaneous access and deliver on their digital promise will survive. Those who rely solely on their brick and mortar presence will not.
Today’s Shopper: More Pragmatic Than Ever
Connectivity is everything, especially when we’re on the move. Major airlines now offer onboard Wi-Fi for a small fee and transportation companies including Amtrak and Peter Pan Bus Lines have figured out that they cannot exist without it. More importantly, it’s a service that we, as consumers, demand.
The instantaneous nature of business today extends to all kinds of products and services. But as the opportunities to hit it big quickly have grown, so have the pitfalls. Consider the movie theater: It used to take time for word to spread about a film, giving theaters a chance to recoup some expenses from early moviegoers. Today, relationship between customers and businesses moves in a matter of moments, and the verdict on a movie spreads across the Web quickly—often before the film even hits theaters.
The new online consumer persona shares many traits of the business-to-business consumer. The emotional aspect of purchase transactions has given way to pragmatic researching and hunting for solutions. Consumers connect to businesses that can solve problems; they don’t want to sit through sales pitches based purely on emotion.
Consumer acceptance of a company’s brand promise is key. WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) marketing is as important as ever. If people like what they see, they must also believe that your brand will offer what they need, when and how they need it.
That doesn’t mean the new consumers don’t have emotional attachments to what they buy or who they do business with. Amazon realized this early and built it into its brand experience from the beginning. If you don’t like anything you purchase there, you can return it immediately—no questions asked.
In the old brick-and-mortar world, people had fewer choices. Today, we have plenty that are a click away: You can look for a specific mountain bike from coast to coast within seconds, or find the only sushi restaurant in New York that will deliver exactly what you want within seconds.
Never before have retailers and purveyors of goods and services been so much at the mercy of their consumers.
Where Emotional Attachments Still Matter
Urbanites work hard and play harder. They move fast, and they don’t have time for errands or needs fulfillment. They have realized fairly quickly that smartphones can, and do, literally place everything from groceries to beverages to fitness trainers with free weights in the palm of their hands, and they’ve responded with enthusiasm.
It is phenomenal that the on-demand industry has gone through such a rapid change of behavior within a mere five years. The swift change stems from two factors: the availability of smartphones, and people’s desire to maximize the convenience and efficiency of procuring services and products.
But even with these light-speed changes, certain fundamentals will remain. A company must match its online presence with its integrity.
A new treaty is being shaped as we speak between consumers and sellers. Shoppers want to do business with companies that are fair, so this treaty must hinge on veracity, transparency, credibility, honesty and good will. If I have a choice between services from an ethically driven company and one with questionable business practices, I’d vote for the former every time.
Research shows that money and employment are not at the top of our personal Maslow’s hierarchies. Instead, we place the most value on fulfillment and satisfaction. Because prices are a known commodity to all in this new economy, people want to know that not only did they make the right purchase, but that they also made the purchase from a vendor that treats their suppliers and employees decently.
Consider this: If the market price for a person’s time is $10.50 an hour (at minimum), then I might pay an additional 5-7 percent on my purchase so the company can pay its employees $15 an hour. I have the satisfaction of knowing my money helps employees work their way up the Maslow ladder.
This is the most fundamental change of the new economy. Consumers have, in many respects, received an option that not long ago was only available to a few. Online research, decision and purchase behaviors now make consumers de facto stakeholders. Consumers’ ability to vote with their mouse and to reject unacceptable behaviors have given them unprecedented powers.
The Bottom Line
Companies that are succeeding in this space have a particular way of handling things.
They have 24/7 human customer-care centers, which provide real-time support and resolution to consumer challenges. They treat their suppliers and vendors with respect and transparency. And they know how to price their products in a way that respects clients’ needs, while maintaining an ethical corporate culture that will drive shoppers to do business with them.
The more expedient we can make the online consumer experience, and the more we ensure customers’ expectations are met, the higher the likelihood of succeeding in today’s on-demand world.
In a way, technology has now done something even physics cannot do. It is creating time. If the purchasing experience reduces the time we allocate to each task, while also reliably helping us fulfill these tasks, then technology is helping us free up time to do more productive and fulfilling things.
Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock