What is Online Consumer Behavior?

C. Mitchell

The phrase “online consumer behavior” describes the process of online shopping from a consumer’s perspective. It is often described as the study of trends, including the influence of online advertising, consumer willingness to click on links, the prevalence of comparison shopping, among others. The decision-making process of an online consumer is often very different from that of a consumer in a physical store. Companies are increasingly studying online consumer behavior in order to adapt their sales and marketing strategies to appeal to the Internet purchaser.

Almost eight out of every ten U.S. shoppers made an online purchase in 2013.
Almost eight out of every ten U.S. shoppers made an online purchase in 2013.

Online sales have increased all over the world, with more and more shoppers looking to the Internet before they head out to malls or other stores. In order to remain competitive, many companies are electing to devote at least some of their marketing capital to the online space. Companies decide many of the finer points of online sales, including advertising strategies, page layout, and ease of website searching by analyzing online consumer behavior.

Behavior studies can tell businesses how online consumers are responding to ads and site layouts.
Behavior studies can tell businesses how online consumers are responding to ads and site layouts.

The field of online consumer behavior can be broad. Most of the time, theories in this field are posited by economists or market analysts who specialize in consumer analysis. Companies hire some consumer analysts on a contract basis to provide tailored advice. Others work for independent market analyst firms, for think tanks, or in academia.

Some online merchants have websites that are designed to replicate an actual shopping experience.
Some online merchants have websites that are designed to replicate an actual shopping experience.

In many respects, the study of online consumer behavior is the study of the intersection between online consumers and online businesses. Analysts look at how consumers respond to various aspects of an online business, and compare the factors that led to a consumer either making a purchase or leaving the website. The consumer psychology of making purchases online is usually a major part of an analyst’s considerations, and analysts often conduct market segmentation studies based on gender, age, and relative sophistication.

Online ordering has become popular in the food industry.
Online ordering has become popular in the food industry.

Online consumer behavior can also be forward-looking. Behavior studies can tell businesses how consumers are responding to ads and site layouts, but they can also predict how consumers will respond to other future campaigns or web features. Market analysis in the online space often leads to innovation. Businesses develop new advertising campaigns, and come up with different ways to reach potential purchasers based on behavioral statistics.

Shopping online has increased as more people prefer the comfort of shopping from home.
Shopping online has increased as more people prefer the comfort of shopping from home.

Sometimes,the way corporations use behavioral data are straightforward, such as sponsoring links on certain sites or optimizing home pages to appear more readily in search engines. Increasingly, however, market responses are more tailored to the consumer individually. Social networking promotions, interactive homepages, and special offers for subscribers of e-mail or messaging updates are all examples of ways in which online consumer behavior has influenced the modern retail world.

Shoppers often do research and browsing online before heading out to a shopping mall.
Shoppers often do research and browsing online before heading out to a shopping mall.
Many people have realized they can save money by shopping online, greatly benefitting their household budgets.
Many people have realized they can save money by shopping online, greatly benefitting their household budgets.

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Discussion Comments

Bhutan

@Crispety -I think that you are right, and this type of consumer behavior online has also led to the closings of a lot of music stores because people can download songs so easily now.

I also think that most large purchases are researched thoroughly online too. In fact, most people that look for real estate property do so on the internet because consumer behavior research has shown this.

My local newspaper used to have a large real estate section where you could see which properties were for sale, now it is merely a column, yet there are multiple sites online that allow you to research properties from all over.

Crispety

I think that consumer behavior online is more research oriented and less impulsive. I tend to research items before I buy them. Sometimes I will go to comparative sites or in the case of an online book store, I will request the book be sent to the store so that can see the contents before I buy.

I know that online you can look through pages of the book as well, but I prefer to hold the book in my hand first.

I think that the consumer behavior online is making the online site more dominant than the actual stores. For example, the book that I was looking to buy was half price on line, but full price in the store. I think with the advent of the E Readers the behavior of the consumer is leading to making the purchase as easy as possible.

People rather shop from their home than travel to the store. This also allows the store to profit from sales at anytime and not be restricted to the store hours.

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