E-commerce has completely changed the way that people shop, notes Romain Brabant, the CEO of DreamChrono, a blog designed for fans and collectors of luxury watches. In some ways, it has changed shopping for the better. But, in other ways, it has made the shopping experience worse. One thing e-commerce has taken away from shoppers is the personalized or expert opinions often found in-store.
While the expert might be missing from some online shopping experience, it hasn't vanished completely. A number resources are attempting to bring expert opinions and services to the e-commerce experience.
The state of online shopping
The Online Shopping Study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that the average person in the United States spent more time shopping each day than they spent relaxing or thinking: 24 minutes compared to 19 minutes.
Online shopping is not new, but it has become a common part of people's everyday experience. The Pew Study found that two thirds of people surveyed in 2007 had purchased something online, which was considerably higher than the 46 percent of people surveyed who bought something online in 2000. More people are not only making online purchases, they are purchasing far more than in years past. Between 2000 and 2007, the amount of revenue produced by e-commerce rose from $7.4 billion to $34.7 billion, or nearly five times as much.
A 2013 survey conducted by UPS found that more than 40 percent of the 3,000 participants made between two and three online purchases over the course of three months. One third of participants made between four and six purchases and nearly 30 percent made more than seven purchases over the course of three months.
While online shopping remains popular and will most likely increase in ubiquity and frequency, it does have some drawbacks compared to in-person shopping. The e-commerce experience often divorces a shopper from professional opinion or from being able to closely inspect the product before committing to purchase it.
Evidence suggests that people still want that expert opinion,. The Pew Study revealed that more than 80 percent of online shoppers in 2007 had done some online research on a product. On a typical day, 15 percent of shoppers admitted to doing online product research.
The more information a customer has about a product, the better able he or she is to make a knowledgeable purchasing decision. Giving the customer useful and reliable information is part of the goal of DreamChrono. As the website's CEO, Romain Brabant, points out, "We give watch enthusiasts an avenue to post their collections, and to get back the right kind of feedback. It gives people a platform to get more information about their watches, and what kind of a price those watches would demand in the secondary market."
Whether a person is in the market for a new, high-end watch or wants to find out the exact differences between various luxury brands, DreamChrono provides the research and information the shopper needs. The focus of the site is to provide expert opinion and to create a community for watch collectors; to serve as a watch database. As Brabant stresses, "We're creating a community based around being the most comprehensive watch encyclopedia on the web." The model could transfer to similar e-commerce experiences, such as shopping for high-end handbags or clothing.
Who influences shoppers' decisions
Experts in a field can have a major impact on a shopper's decision to purchase a product or not. A study testing the impact that expert opinion can have on the sales of products was conducted in 2006, using bottles of wine. The researchers chose 150 types of wine typically stocked at a grocery store. To be chosen, the wine needed to have a wine score, or rating conferred upon it by an expert.
Wines sold in the treatment store were labeled with the scores they had received. Wines sold in two control stores were unlabeled. During the month of the study, sales of labeled wines increased by about 1.5 bottles; meanwhile, in the control stores, sales of unlabeled wines dropped by about one bottle. Wines with a lower score in the treatment store were more likely to have fewer sales that month than wines with a higher score.
The study suggested that expert opinion impacted the sales of wine in two ways. Wines that were rated highly by experts were more likely to see a boost in sales when they were recognized as being high-quality wines. Wines with a lower score, usually less than 80, were likely to see a drop in sales, as people believed them to be lower quality.
Bringing that same expert opinion to online sales can have a comparable impact on people's purchasing decisions and help them to make more informed choices. While the quality of a wine can be a subjective opinion, the quality of a product like a watch is more objective, meaning that expert views on a particular watch can be particularly useful to an online customer.
"A watch is not just a product, it is a symbol of prestige, and there is an element of wanting to show it off," says Romain Brabant. Giving a customer as much information about a watch before purchase is a primary example of how DreamChrono is bringing expert opinions and information to the realm of e-commerce.