By Jacqueline Garza, Tina Rojas and Rebecca J. Stigall
Alumni, American Public University
In what seems like a few short years, consumers have gone from shopping at brick-and-mortar locations to shopping online, leaving physical stores in the proverbial commerce dust. Younger shoppers – such as millennials and Gen Zers – view online shopping as a ubiquitous part of the commerce arsenal.
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However, older generations – baby boomers and Gen Xers – remember when shopping in a store or via a mail-order catalog was the only way to access merchandise. How we view ecommerce business depends on the lens we use.
Certainly, shopping online has changed more than just how we purchase and receive goods. Before the internet, shoppers could shop in person to access goods and services immediately, or they could shop via a merchant’s catalog and wait six to eight weeks for the delivery of their purchase. But the most significant effect on how we shop in the 21st century may be on how humans interact with one another and the challenges that marketers are presented with keeping a human face on their marketing efforts in a digital world.
Marketers Struggle to Retain Rich Human Interaction in Ecommerce
Rich forms of human interaction are lacking in today’s world of ecommerce, even though social networks give users a false sense of community. But it is exactly the ability of humans to communicate face-to-face that often fosters a feeling of trust between consumer and shop owner or worker – a trust built as a result of shopping in the same location over time. Trust continues to be a factor, but internet ecommerce has challenged marketing professionals to foster trust in a world that lacks face-to-face interactions.
With increasing technology in what is being called the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and seeing a dramatic influx in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in our daily lives, there still needs to be a human component, such as empathy, in today’s digital marketing. A recent article by Leigh Andrews notes that new information is married with what we already know, that we’re often unaware of our own thoughts, and that purchasing decisions are often driven by feelings rather than thoughts.
During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Company Ads Show More Sensitivity to Struggling Customers
While the global COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, many companies have incorporated this human element in their digital marketing campaigns. For instance, instead of a business-as-usual type vehicle ad, Ford Motor Company released ads that highlighted payment relief for buyers affected by the pandemic this year. They did the same last year for customers who were affected by fires, hurricanes and tornadoes.
These types of timely ads may be more acceptable to consumers after they view news clips reporting the most recent numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. While customers may not even be thinking of buying a new car, they may feel a sense of comfort hearing an ad that isn’t focused on pushing the consumer to buy. This type of ad also shows a company truly cares about its customers as more than a mere source of revenue.
Digital Marketing Has Become Especially Important in Attracting Customers
The importance of ecommerce has grown for marketers themselves, because more and more people are turning to online shopping instead of stepping inside businesses. Some people find that online shopping is safer, easier and more convenient, especially with their busy schedules, in this digital age.
Since this shift in customer buying is a huge transformation, marketers need to keep up their websites to make sure everything is current and have a human component added into their websites. For instance, websites need to be user-friendly. Also, people may need suggestions about the products and services they seek or may feel more comfortable having a human interaction as they shop online.
Whatever the reason is, people need that human interaction. As a result, marketers should not forget about that need, whether customers are shopping in stores or online.
Nearly three-quarters of shoppers say customer experience is more important than price and product quality when it comes to purchasing decisions. Marketers need to create a welcoming online community, so shoppers can enjoy their time as they shop.
They also need to make sure customers have a positive online experience, especially if customers need help determining where to go or how to find out what they seek. Some sites offer assistance with a human-like chat bot in case customers need help for anything.
Without the human-like assistance in digital marketing, customers might change their mind about purchasing and buy from a competitor. Customers are no longer content to wait; being on hold for five minutes to an hour on the telephone went out the window a long time ago.
Businesses Still Need to Provide Human Interaction and Build Long-Term Customer Relationships through Digital Marketing
Today’s consumers want and need human interaction to feel like that they are in a physical store and getting the same type of human assistance. The human element remains central to customer interactions, even if it’s embedded within automation, artificial intelligence, advanced analytics or other technologies.
Whether customers shop online or in person, no company can lose sight of customers’ need for human interaction. Regardless of whether or not your employees see individual consumers, human interaction and building long-term relationships remain very important.
About the Authors
Jacqueline Garza graduated with an MBA in marketing from American Public University in 2019. She currently lives in Nebraska with her spouse and two daughters. She separated from the USAF in September 2015 and enjoyed visiting new places while active duty for about seven years.
Tina Rojas graduated from American Public University in 2018 with an MBA in healthcare administration. She is a Veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve and currently works as a health systems specialist at the Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, CA. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.
Rebecca J. Stigall graduated from American Public University with an MBA in marketing. She is currently a doctoral student. Rebecca is also a digital media and marketing professional and serves as an adjunct instructor at Ohio Business College, Bryant & Stratton College, and Franklin University. Her research interests include social media, digital marketing and ecommerce.
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