July 26, 2002, 12:00 AM

Offline brands and actions are key to online success, study says

Customers of e-retailers base their purchasing decisions more than 80% of the time on actions a merchant takes beyond the online world, says a recent study that gives its highest performance rating to Amazon.com.

Customers of e-retailers base their purchasing decisions more than 80% of the time on actions a merchant takes beyond the online world, says a recent study that gives its highest performance rating to Amazon.com.

The study by San Diego-based Miller-Williams was based on interviews with nearly 1,000 customers of online companies such as Amazon, AOL-Time Warner, Yahoo and Monster.com. Those interviewed included current as well as former and prospective customers.

The study found that customers based their decisions only 15% of the time on their online "clicks interaction" experience. At all other times purchasing decisions were based on the merchant`s offline strategies and policies. Miller-Williams used four other categories to measure the cause of purchasing behavior: brand performance, which drove 35% of purchasing decisions; financial longevity, 18%, strategic direction, 17%; and a traditional store-like shopping experience, or "bricks interaction," 15%.

Miller-Williams said Amazon "is the premier e-commerce company, having translated their brand performance into value on the bricks interaction. The research shows their value is essentially the equivalent of a retail storefront, something that customers don’t see in the other e-commerce companies."

More e-commerce companies should better demonstrate financial strength and security, which they can best display by aggressively pursuing new markets, Miller-Williams said. "Customers do not necessarily equate financial resources with security, but see a company`s aggressiveness and ability to seize new markets as increasing their financial longevity," the report says. It noted that study respondents named business software maker Oracle Corp., Redwood City, Calif., as tops in this area.

The researcher added that the largest pool of untapped customers holding a purchasing value of some $19 billion are among those the researcher describes as "Sensibles" and "Hagglers."

"Sensibles, defined by their desire for human interaction and decision-approach, make up 37% of all customers but are less than 10% tapped," the Miller-Williams report said. And who’s most apt at catering to Sensibles? Amazon.

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