Study: Consumers Need More Assurance Before Shopping Online

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NEW YORK -- More consumers would be willing to make purchases online if they could be assured that retail Web sites would keep their personal information private, according to a study released last week at Jupiter Communications' Fourth Annual Online Advertising Forum held here.

The study, "The Online Retail Monitor: Branding, Segmentation & Web Sites," conducted by NFO Interactive, Greenwich, CT, examined the habits, attitudes and trends of consumers in the online retailing environment. A total of 4,523 online consumers were part of the study, which included both buyers and nonbuyers of goods and services over the Internet.

Participants in the consumer panel were asked to rate key indicators that would make them feel more comfortable about making purchases from retail Web sites. Five major attributes were noted:

* Consumers have to trust that the site will keep personal information private.

* The site must offer a secure environment to purchase products.

* The site has to be technically reliable.

* The content must be up to date.

* Products ordered must be delivered in a timely fashion.

According to Tim Washer, NFO Interactive's director of research and consulting, "These are the very attributes that characterize offline or conventional shopping. The most successful online retailers will closely simulate the brick-and-mortar shopping experience by approximating the offline experience online."

Washer said established offline retailers have to find a way to transfer their brand's good name and attributes to the environment of the Web. He said for new Web-only retailers, it was especially important to build brand equity by first understanding the intended target market and its online customer service expectations.

"You have to [convert] those expectations into Web-site attributes" he said. "What worked for may not work for everyone else."

Other key items noted in the report included information from 1,944 consumers that indicated they had not yet made an online purchase but said they would make Internet purchases if:

* Assurances were made that their privacy would be protected: 69.4 percent.

* Large price discounts were offered: 65 percent.

* They were given the ability to return products to a brick-and-mortar store: 28 percent.

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