Since the explosion of the Internet in the late 90s, having an online presence is all that has mattered. Whether you were looking for a new recipe, researching a disease or reading the latest news, as long as you were doing it online you were doing something cool and interesting with your time.
But has that now all changed?
Recent opinions suggest that it is no longer glamorous to be online or ‘surfing the net’ just for the sake of it, and there are several trends that support this view. Internet growth in the US and UK has plateaued; Facebook and Myspace are not growing at the rate they were, and indeed are shrinking in some countries; more and more domain names are becoming available, as people who registered them years ago, thinking they will be worth thousands one day, now let them expire.
Opening a shop on the Internet is as challenging and expensive as opening a shop on the high street, and the competition for that elusive page one position on Google’s results is both fierce and extremely expensive as mainstream brands lay claim to their top positions online too.
So, are you telling us that the Internet is not important anymore and that I should not bother, I hear you say. Well, not exactly. I am saying that most of the people who use the Internet today (especially the people spending money, i.e. your target customers) use it because they ‘have to’, not necessarily because they want to. From their point of view they are not ‘using the Internet’ anymore, instead they are paying their electricity bill, checking the cinema times or booking a Ryanair flight.
People’s use of the Internet today has become as ubiquitous as that of the telephone 50 years ago. It is simply not cool to spend time online for the sake of it, consumers value their time more than ever and they look at the Internet as a tool to serve a purpose.
Firstly, customers expect to be able to do business with you as and when they want. If you don’t offer an Internet option that operates beyond normal business hours, they will go and shop with someone who does.
Secondly, if your site does not work or you do not offer your entire product line, customers will feel you are wasting their time and don’t value their business
Thirdly, customers make no distinction between buying from you on the telephone, online or in person. Your business has to provide them with a consistent customer experience, no matter which channel they use.
And finally, customers can easily check if your prices are competitive. You need to give them a reason to continue to buy from you instead of drifting elsewhere.
The phenomenon of ‘Internet fatigue’, customers literally tired of endlessly searching the Internet for their perfect holiday/best hotel deal/cheapest flight, does mean that there is a space for those companies that carefully position their services as ‘outsourcing’ (i.e. we do the leg work for you).
The savvy customer will still expect to use the Internet as a tool to make the transaction easier. Tailor-made operators and travel specialists are a good example; they will tailor-make a holiday for a customer, but then e-mail all the details, provide access to an up-to-date itinerary hosted on their website and collect payment online.
So, now that the Internet is not simply cool in itself anymore, it is time to think differently. Too many businesses still think in terms of traditional business versus Internet business, while they should be embracing the same point of view as their customers.
The Internet is just another channel to deliver your business and a channel no more glamorous than the good old telephone.
Roberto da Re is president of Dolphin Dynamics