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Consumers’ new path to buying: They research everything

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The new way of buying begins with inquiry, as everything we purchase is subjected to research.

We start with an online search. And, after years of using the Internet, we have become much more targeted with our search terms. And search engines accommodate with highly targeted results.

We have gone from searching for an “RCA television” to entering “buy television, 56-inch flat screen HD LED 1080p.” The specific brand name is no longer added to most searches.

Second, price and features are compared side by side. Websites that compare products are called comparison shopping engines, and they provide information on a broad range of products.

CSEs started in the 1990s and continue to grow. Some of the largest ones include shopzilla.com, pricegrabber.com and shopping.com (which is a part of the auction site eBay).

Each product has its own profile, which includes price, reviews and descriptions, with detailed specs, ratings, price alerts, wish lists and locations to buy. It is up to retailers to participate with the CSEs.

Third, we search and read not only the reviews and testimonials from other consumers about products or services, but also research the company that manufactures or distributes that product or service.

Last, to finalize the decision, we take everything we have learned about the product and ask our network of trusted friends and family for their opinion or experience. For example, these are common questions used to research most purchases:

“We need a new TV; what kind do you have?”

“Who do you use?”

“I need a new car; what should I buy?”

In fact, asking other consumers is very important in deciding what to buy:

92 percent of online consumers have more confidence in information found online than they do in advice from a sales clerk or other source, according to The Wall Street Journal.

90 percent trust recommendations from people they know.

70 percent trust unknown users.

27 percent trust experts.

14 percent trust advertising.

This is a revolution in the way we buy and acquire stuff. The information is available 24/7/365 online or through smartphones.

Gone are the days of driving to the television store, where your choices were RCA or Zenith, 10-inch or 13-inch screen or portable or console.

Now we go online, go through our purchasing research and wait for the delivery to our front door. We have seen more weight being placed on the reputation than the brand of the product.

Do people still buy the old-fashioned way? Of course they do, but in decreasing numbers, and catering to that market is a sure path to declining sales figures.

It is logical to say that, if people buy differently, businesses need to change the way they approach marketing and their marketing message to consumers.

For a very long time, advertising agencies have routinely focused on using the stock brand-marketing philosophy and communicating the message in traditional advertising media channels.

The agency's stock brand-marketing theory has creative directors, content writers and graphic designers in a room creating imaginary issues, with fake stories that use fake people (actors) with solutions to problems that may or may not work for the consumers seeing the advertising.

The focus has been to sell as much as you can, however you can and to whomever you can, which means the consumer is not being engaged.

As the economy rebounds, some companies will be left behind.

Some owners wonder, “What rebound?”

The businesses that are participating and thriving in the existing economy are the ones that have adjusted and refined their methods to reflect current consumer and business purchasing habits.

In today's new world economy, combined with the new buying process, consumers are flooded with information. Product information is available instantly, at our fingertips.

Consumers educate themselves not only on every aspect of the product but also the entire business: consumers, management, employees and vendors. They know everything about the business, including labor, materials and conditions of the import/export details.

The consumer knows if the business is environmentally responsible; where, with what material and how the products are made, and by whom; and treatment of employees, even under what conditions they work.

Consumers research to find the products that are the most aligned with their needs, morals and beliefs. Consumers have raised the bar and are demanding, with their dollars as the carrot, that businesses strive to reach and surpass their expectations.

If your company is not meeting consumer expectations, consumers will move on and find a company that does.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, in a 2012 talk titled Reputation: The New Branding, “Customer service is emerging as a key differentiator among successful online retailers and is having a growing influence on Web success.

“Companies such as Amazon, Land's End, Virgin America and Zappos have established enviable customer-service reputations by providing and delivering superior customer service. The foundation of agile consumer service is that it is embedded across the organization as a core to achieving key business objectives, including sales, brand and customer satisfaction.”

The talk's specific purpose: To inform the audience on why a great reputation is critical for success. The speakers discuss the definition and purpose of brand and branding, the four reasons brand marketing has become ineffective, and why reputation marketing is the new branding.

Consultant and speaker Pamela S. Gockley is president, CEO and chairman of Vigilant Corp. of Reading, a 19-year-old company that offers marketing, customer service and reputation management and other services. Her earlier book, “The Reputation Factor: Repositioning to Succeed,” was published in 2012. She can be reached at 610-916-2652 or pam@gockleyassociates.com.

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