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How the Digitally Evolving World is Changing Customer Research

Economic and technological shifts in the digitally evolving world have essentially changed customer research behaviour, which impacts how you market and sell to them. As the number of digital natives and digitally assimilated customers increase, the need to evolve and adapt to these changes are necessary to survive.

One way the digitally evolving world has changed customer behaviour is the ease of conducting research.

Ease of Online Customer Research

The first thing any prospect does when looking for a product or service is to do research. In fact, 97% of consumers search online for local businesses.

Fifteen years ago, people went to one or two websites when looking for a product and made a purchase decision based on that information. Or, they would ask friends or family members for their opinions. Magazine reviews were also a big source of information.

However, as of January 1st, 2020, there were 1,744,517,326 websites in the world, a good number providing information and solutions to problems. This doesn’t even count YouTube channels devoted to specific subjects.

The modern customer has access to all this information from around the world if they have an Internet connection. They can research any topic, product, service or business they want in minutes on any digital device they are using.

Over 51% of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product while searching for their smartphone.

In the past, companies had more power to convince and reason with customers with regards to purchases. Salespeople were trusted as the main source of information and channel when considering a purchase. This is not the case anymore due to the ability of the customer to research any subject matter easily.

Increased Convenience in the Digitally Evolving World

With the ease of research comes the expectation for convenience in dealing with businesses online.

Some think that the digital evolution, like e-commerce, is restricted to B2C businesses. But this is not true. B2B e-commerce sales are expected to outgrow B2C e-commerce sales by 2020.

Customers want to shop on their terms, whenever and wherever they are, regardless of the device or channel.

For most customers, the increased convenience that digital platforms provide is one of the biggest reasons they prefer online transactions over offline ones.

Online travel agents like Booking.com or Agoda are good examples of how convenience disrupted the air travel and hospitality industry by making it easy to book a flight or hotel room at the customer’s pleasure.

A 2016 report by Phocuswright found that the majority (47%) of travellers prefer booking with online travel agents because they find their website easy to use. In a list of top ten reasons, every other response was related to the practical advantages online travel agents offer, including choice, best prices, and simple cancellation policies.

The entire interface of these online travel agents is designed for easy browsing and booking, and the site itself offers many conveniences for travellers; free cancellations, instant discounts for members, mobile booking confirmations that can be accessed offline, city travel guides, and more.

Customer Online Research | Evolve & Adapt

Likewise, food delivery apps like GrabFood, UberEats, GrubHub and DoorDash have taken advantage of the digital landscape to make ordering meals more convenient for its customers. By simplifying the process of choosing a restaurant, through to menu selection and payment, they have made it simpler than ever to order a meal that will be sent to your doorstep.

While e-commerce has created lots of challenges for some traditional offline businesses and even forced those that could not evolve and adapt to shutter, the websites and apps mentioned help provide another marketing and revenue channel for participating companies.

On the retail front, Euromonitor International projects, 83% of goods purchased globally in 2022 will still be bought in-store. However, I believe this study includes both developing and developed countries, so it may not be completely accurate or relevant in the context of offline businesses in developed countries. So, take it with a pinch of salt.

Since the digitally evolving world is making online research so easy for the modern customer, you need to ensure you have a digital marketing strategy in place that includes search engine optimization (SEO).

For your business to be successful today, it does not require you to transform your business into a digital one, especially if you are an offline business, although you must have online customer communication and transaction channels available to ensure your business is convenient for your target customer.

J C Sum

J C Sum is a certified management consultant (TR 43:2015), an American Marketing Association Professional Certified Marketer (PCM®) in marketing management as well as a certified digital marketing strategist (SSG-WSQ accredited) with 11 years of experience specializing in search engine optimization, content marketing and analytics. He is the author of "Evolve, Adapt or Collapse".

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