Locking-in an Internet customer, essentially, means getting that shopper to return to your Web site instead of trying out new sites. Customers "lock-in" to Web sites because they learn to navigate them, understand how they work and don´t want to invest the time to learn new sites. That, anyway, is the wisdom of research gathered by the authors of "Beyond the Basics: Research-Based Rules for Internet Retailing Advantage," (eLab Press), all part of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing of the Owen Graduate School of Management of Vanderbilt University.
The authors summarize their research with 10 rules that, they say, "will better facilitate the development of lock-in on online retailing Web sites." And the rules are:
1. Require an initial investment. Web sites should require an initial learning effort and/or a set-up fee. Why? Because if consumers invest time or money on a Web site, then there is a greater chance for them to be locked in later on.
2. Keep it simple. Shoppers should be able to easily navigate through a Web site, with minimal investment of time and energy.
3. Be cautious about making big changes to your Web site. Once customers learn how to use a site and are familiar with it, changes could turn shoppers off.
4. Clone. Copy your current familiar design when you add new products and services. That way, customers can transfer their skills.
5. Copy. Imitate the design of popular sites within legal limits. It´ll make your customers feel comfortable.
6. Be Unique. Develop a site that has easy-to-adopt but difficult-to-imitate features that might be too expensive for an upstart, cash-strapped or technologically weak competitor to reproduce.
7. Build a bank. Create information buffers for customers so they can keep a history of their past purchases, a wish list or a future purchase queue on your site.
8. Create virtual capital. Amazon.com and eBay allow consumers to rate their transaction experience so that sellers and buyers can build reputations by earning higher scores. These earned reputations lock them into the Web sites. Dell.com pays virtual capital by offering a premier page for customers (mainly large firms that have purchase agreements with Dell). This page allows customers to configure, price and buy systems at discounted prices, to track orders and inventory, and to access contact information for Dell team members.
9. Motivate the next visit. Add value to the next visit to your Web site by offering free shipping for the next purchase or discounts to good customers.
10. Increase involvement. Offer free trial periods, for example.
The authors note that Internet shoppers do not shop around for the best prices, but they — rather — lock in to one or two Internet retailers. Knowing this then, it´s probably wise to aim for customer lock in as you design your store´s Web site.
Next week in Retail Strategies: Learn about digital signage