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Ecommerce Comes from Customer Satisfaction

Online shopping is convenient, but many companies whose web sites do brisk sales often leave consumers wanting. That's according to ForeSee Results, a research company that studied customer satisfaction among Internet shoppers. One way to improve the experience is gift cards, according to Merchant Commerce (http://merchantcommerce.net), an e-commerce services provider. Gift cards can be used to reward loyal customers and to attract new clients. "People love to tell their friends about new shops or products they have found," said Rebecca Campbell, Manager of Merchant Commerce. "Gift cards get shoppers in the door, whether it's a Web store or a physical outlet."

Even though online sales number in the tens of billions of dollars each year, they still total less than 10% of the overall retail market. At the same time, electronic sales are increasing at a much faster rate than traditional retail, and consumer confidence and comfort with e-commerce are not really issues anymore. Customer satisfaction, however, is a concern. Price is usually a secondary factor online, and a dual study by shop.org and Forrester Research confirms that. That report listed health and beauty supplies, and sporting goods ? typically not low-cost merchandise ? as the categories with the biggest jumps in sales. "Consumers put a premium on service, even more so than on convenience," says Clarence Briggs, Chief Executive Officer of AIT, the parent company for Merchant Commerce. "The Web puts so many choices in front of the buying public; online merchants need a means of hooking shoppers in."

Consumers who don't find what they want on one web site will jump to another; that is much easier than actually driving between stores. Here is where technology-as-customer-satisfaction can be measured. It can be a tool that browsers use to build shopping lists before committing to a purchase, making check-out easier. Or, a clothing site that lets shoppers see how different items look in combination. Or, a site that provides third-party assessments of a product line, with links to news stories, for instance. "It's about creating a scenario that makes it easy for consumers to buy," said Campbell. "Gift cards are another means of doing that."

Merchants already know that consumers are turning to the Internet, if not to make purchases, then to do research prior to purchasing decisions. They know it because money spent on search-engine marketing keeps going up, yet many business owners put a higher premium on a high Google ranking than on what happens once a browser clicks onto a web site. Like any other marketing medium, a good search engine message can only bring customers to the door; it can't make them buy anything.

Alex Lekas is the VP / Corporate Communications for AIT, a hosting services provider to nearly 200,000 business domains in 107 countries.

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