Trustworthiness and recommendations are key factors for online shoppers


Itella studies how consumers select online stores

According to a study commissioned by Itella, trustworthiness and recommendations are decisive factors when selecting an online store. This was the most extensive online store study to date, and it indicates that a specific online store is selected on the basis of its familiarity and reputation, friends' recommendations, comments by other consumers, or tips provided by the media. Search word marketing has a smaller role than it has been previously believed.

Trustworthiness and recommendations are linked as, according to the study, trustworthiness is built from the online store's familiarity, reputation, the customer's personal experiences and those of others. In fact, visibility and being a positive talking point are the keys to the success of an online store.

- In the last few years, Finns have been excited by search engine marketing. There has been an almost unanimous view that online stores acquire customers so long as the stores invest in search word marketing and ensure that their store is found through search engines. Of course, there also are those who are surfing the Internet and end up shopping, particularly when they search for a specific brand or product. However, search word optimization alone is not enough. A good reputation and recommendations, particularly in the wider sense, are the most important factors determining which online store a Finn selects, says Mikko Marsio, Director, eCommerce Services, Itella Corporation.

The research, commissioned by Itella in January and February 2009, included more than 22,000 Internet users, of which 80 percent already had experience in purchasing goods online in the last two years. To date, the research is the most extensive online store survey carried out in Finland, shedding light on how Finns approach online purchasing. Through online interviews, Itella received over 240,000 separate free-form comments related to online stores.

- By ‘trustworthiness', Finns refer to the fulfillment of promises given. The correct product must be delivered at the right time. When looking for a new online store, a consumer naturally cannot yet have personal experience concerning the trustworthiness of the store in question. This means that recommendations and store familiarity play a key role. As a result, Finnish online merchants should focus more on marketing," says Marsio.

The research shows that recommendations function well in all age groups, and slightly better for women than for men. - Good comparison features and test results have an impact on men's store selection, which means that this is also about recommendations in the wider sense. Recommendations concern cases when the decision has been impacted by friends, discussion forums or topics highlighted by the media. In addition, recommendation features or discussion forums integrated into the online store may provide an impetus to purchase, says Marsio.

Recommendations play a significant role, especially on a first visit to a new online store, or when purchasing a new product or service. Recommendations are seen as strengthening trustworthiness, with the consumer grapevine also creating phenomena and trends.

- If friends have found good-looking outfits from an online store, others will take their lead and spread the word. For women in particular, the Internet enables a totally new kind of a shop-and-tell experience, word-of-mouth shopping. On the other hand, a single negative experience concerning an online store is multiplied on the Internet to the experience of many people. On the Internet, bad news travel fast, says Marsio.

Regular customers through familiarity

A good online store experience requires that the basics are mastered: easy and clear product introductions, good pictures, a secure payment method, a good price-quality ratio, and quick delivery, right to the customer's doorstep if required.

- The basics are fundamental for online stores, they must be in order. They are not competitive factors because you cannot differentiate yourself from the rest with them. However, if they are not in good order, the customer will not come back. Customers who have experienced good customer service, are quite loyal to their chosen online store. When the first shopping experience gives the customer a good impression - the goods arrive on time, the price-quality ratio is suitable, and the product meets expectations - it is likely that the customer will return, says Marsio.

Customers can be invited back to the online store by sending newsletters and offers by email. They function as impulses reminding the customer that the store is there, and appeal to them to shop again.

- This is what Finnish online merchants should improve. Online store marketing has focused on the acquisition of new customers instead of also marketing to those who have previously made purchases through the store. Finns do not have experiences concerning online store loyalty schemes, and the selection of an online store is not based on any particularly fabulous customer experiences. In Finland, online stores are mainly managed by developing product sales, not customerships, says Marsio.

Three foreign online stores in the Top 10

In the survey, Itella also asked Finns to name online stores that they visit. Three foreign online stores placed in the Top 10.

- According to previous studies, approximately 20 to 25 percent of purchases made by Finns are through foreign online stores. According to this survey, one third of the online stores mentioned are foreign. Finnish online merchants have an excellent opportunity now. According to studies, online commerce will increase during the recession. Whether Finnish or foreign online stores benefit from the growth potential depends on merchants' willingness to invest in online store development, says Marsio.

Itella commissioned similar research in 2007 and 2008. In two years, there has been a clear change in Finns' online purchasing towards a more positive direction.

In 2007, security was clearly highlighted in the responses. In 2008, Finns regarded security as such a self-evident matter that the decision to go shopping online is based on other factors. Last year, the study also showed that as online shopping becomes more common, men and women start to have quite different expectations of online stores. Men shop online to reach an extensive range of products, to compare products and find a good price-quality ratio. Women shop online because they want to use their time more flexibly.

Itella carried out the online interviews with Fountain Park.

Further details for the media:
Mikko Marsio, Director, eCommerce Services, Itella Corporation, tel. +358 40 821 0404,

Itella's eCommerce Service provide companies with a service range that includes warehousing, deliveries, invoicing and marketing. For customer data processing and utilization, there are many kinds of targeted communication means available which help to appeal to new visitors and strengthen existing customerships. Itella's strong logistics know-how, combined with automated information flow, promotes profitable online business. Read more