How To Replicate Offline Service Online

Business Meeting

Small businesses have long be able to afford a more personal service than their larger, corporate counterparts.

This affords consumers a clear reason to use a small business service, but what hasn’t been clear, until now, is whether this perception of small business transcends into the online world.

Research from 123-reg, in association with You Gov and Brainchimp, has explored how:

“customers perceive large and small businesses on and offline and the differences therein.”

Over 350,000 individuals took part in the online survey and, on average, those participants shopped twice a week online and visited small business sites once a week.

Offline Perceptions

In the offline environment the study’s participants scored small businesses higher than big businesses in 8 out of 12 categories, for attributes such as:

  • Showing a friendly face
  • Cares about me
  • Community interaction
  • Good relationship with the staff
  • Staff are attentive to me
  • Fun and Engaging to shop with
  • Remembering who I am and what I like
  • Recommendations based on past purchases

Unsurprisingly, 71% of survey respondents confirmed the conventional wisdom that Brits believe small business affords a more personal service to their bigger counterparts.

56% actually suggested that this “personal service” is a benefit of buying from small businesses in the real world.

Online Perceptions

Hardly revelatory stuff, but the interesting part of the study comes during the online phase.

Here, the situation changes with Brits more inclined to trust big business websites than small, with 59% of those who buy online suggesting that large business websites are generally better.

This figure rises to 78% for 18-24 year olds. Whilst 48% of the same age group would rather buy from a big business website. It does decrease to 23% for older generations, but still suggests an inclination to favour big business online.

What’s the Difference

The disparity between the perceived excellence of small businesses offline service and online personalisation, is clear within the study.

Big businesses performed better in 14 out of 22 website categories, with: usability, social functions and information quality (including personalisation) marked as particularly strong for big business.

You could argue that big business has the budget to obtain better websites. To employ user experience experts and the top designers and teams to analyse the intricacies of their website and its analytics.

But, according to research partner Patrick Fagan of Brainchimp, it’s within personalisation that small businesses can close the gap:

“Personalisation of a site significantly affected people’s trust and empathy with the business which directly translated into purchase and behavioural intent.”

71% of those who purchase online agreed that offline small businesses offer better service with 48% believing big business websites to afford better personalistion.

Without a difference in product quality between the large and small businesses tested, big businesses are still better at driving purchase and behavioural intentions.

These responses were shown to be driven by increases in trust (10%), empathy (6%) as well as general responses to the site (9%).

What Can Be Done

According to the research, small businesses can close the online gap by introducing experiential personalisation on their websites.

With 48% of British adults accepting that small businesses are better at knowing “who I am and what I like.” To Richard Winslow of 123-reg, it stands to reason that by replicating this personalised service in the online realm small businesses can begin to close the gap.

The study also highlights a definitive link between perceived empathy and trust and increased behavioural and purchase intent- big businesses generally garner higher sentiments of trust and empathy online.

Currently these is a discrepancy between the trust and empathy small businesses enjoy offline and the levels they catalyse online. It’s important to improve this through a process of website personalisation.

Examples of personalisation may include:

  • Allowing product reviews and ratings from shoppers
  • Clear and easy navigation
  • Error free websites
  • Providing responsive websites
  • Looking after personal data securely
  • Ease of finding/buying products
  • Product recommendations based on past purchases
  • Nice, appealing design
  • Providing site information based on customer i.e. location, time of day

The conclusion is clear- Small businesses need to start taking their online presence as seriously as they do their offline service.

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