2009: the year online & offline become one

The ubiquitous phrase for 2008 was undoubtedly ‘credit crunch’. As a nation of shopaholics the terminology is particularly significant. But what impact will the economic downturn have on our shopping behaviour in 2009 and how can marketers ensure they are ready for the changes?

It’s no secret that the internet has become a bargain hunters’ playground as more and more consumers seek money saving deals and take advantage of cheaper pricing strategies, online voucher codes and cash-back websites.

This migration in our shopping habits will become overt in 2009 and we can definitely expect to see many top e-tailers going head-to-head. Also expect the birth of many new independents, looking to cash in on the opportunities. And let’s not forget comparison websites, which will continue to capitalise on the shift toward online being the place to shop for anything and everything.

In essence, 2009 is set to be the year the online consumer is truly spoilt for choice. This change will introduce a new breed of shopper: the digital virgin. These individuals are the formerly reluctant digital nay-sayers, who once avoided online shopping as if it were the plague. This market is the audience that digital marketers need to reach out to and connect with in 2009 in order to gain a competitive edge.

But the needs of this market is different to that of existing online shoppers – so expect some hand-holding and brand-loyalty-building to play an intrinsic role as the year progresses. But what does this really mean in terms of marketing activity? Well, it’s simple really. What is required is the production of effective and engaging user assistance tools. The core elements are already to be found on most retail websites e.g. FAQs, online demos, customer reviews etc. but it’s the evolution of these tools that will require a greater focus.

User-friendly tools, such as Live Chat, User Journey Demos and even Call Me Back requests will all shape the way in which a website is perceived. Users new to online will need to learn to actively embrace the medium, they won’t necessarily do this out of choice – more out of necessity – and they’ll probably miss the personal touch found in offline shopping. With that noted, a telephony service may also play a crucial role in providing news users with reassurance.

The outcome should see a hybridisation of offline/online shopping, utilising the best of both worlds.  The retailers to benefit from this seismic shift will be those who really take advantage of the growth in online traffic by catering effectively for the new users.

Marketers who fail to quickly make this transition will inevitably fall behind. This newcomer-audience will be easily influenced so expect an aggressive battle for brand loyalty in the year ahead.