Forbes India – The Internet Has Shattered Brand Loyalty

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One of the ways our online lives have reconfigured our brains is that we are more comfortable buying from an unknown brand. And those same changing habits can also make us less loyal to anything we buy.
Image: Kiel Mutschelknaus / The New York Times

A A few winters ago, me and many other American women bought the Amazon coat, a pretty affordable outerwear that grabbed attention for a hot minute. It’s an OK coat, but I always forget the manufacturer’s name. I doubt that I will be a lifelong customer.

I am no eccentric in this regard. One of the ways our online lives have reconfigured our brains is that we are more comfortable buying from an unknown brand. And those same changing habits can also make us less loyal to anything we buy.

I spoke about this phenomenon recently with Josh Lowitz and Michael R. Levin, co-founders of the research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. We talked about how online customer reviews, relatively inexpensive social media advertising, and new shopping destinations like Amazon and Instagram have revamped the way we review and buy products. It’s exciting in many ways, and not that great in others.

Think about ways you might have bought something in times before, say before 2010. Maybe you went to your local hardware store looking for a cordless drill, and it didn’t. only stored DeWalt models.

You trusted the store to sell a good product – or if it didn’t, that was your only option anyway. This is what you bought. The retailer basically made the choice for you, said Levin and Lowitz.

Usually that’s not how we buy anymore. Instead of having that choice solo, we can browse the billions of cordless drills on Amazon from our couches and gauge customer reviews online.

Startups like Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker have proven that a smart product and smart advertising can turn us away from old days. We no longer need the store to be the arbiter of what we buy. We might just need an Instagram boost to persuade us to try out new cookware.

In many ways, this is awesome. A one-man business may just need a Shopify website, listings on Amazon, or a Facebook page to compete with multinational conglomerates. Powerhouses like Nike or Levi’s cannot rest on their laurels for a century. We have more choices, we are more open to trying something new, and great products can break through.

But like me and my Amazon coat, it can be harder than ever to forge a lasting relationship. Maybe you bought the vacuum cleaner you saw all over TikTok, but will you buy from this company again? These young companies, as Lowitz describes it, “are successful in making sales but not customers”.

What if companies are only focused on selling us something immediately, and not on retaining our customers? If companies just have to persuade us to buy something once, I wonder if that creates any incentive to make meh products.

There is also a cost to the choices. We are more likely to be fooled by fake reviews or other tips online. Sometimes it’s a relief to only have one cordless drill option rather than having to choose from an ocean of them online.

Molson Hart, the owner of the educational toy company Viahart that I spoke about earlier this year, told me he believes it is still possible to build a great brand with enduring customers. It just takes new skills.

Products that could have been in-car purchases on Amazon can encourage repeat shoppers by putting welcome messages into product packaging or reaching out to people who post praise on social media, he said.

The idea is to be on the minds of people, so that they will come back for another purchase, leave a positive review on Amazon, or both. (Not all customers like these tactics. And some Amazon sellers go too far by offering gift cards in exchange for reviews, which is against company rules.)

“Whether it’s a store, Shopify, Amazon, a billboard, an advertisement … whatever. If you can grab people’s attention and get them to think your product is good, you are creating a brand.” Hart said. “It doesn’t matter how you do it.”

We usually don’t take a step back and think about why we buy certain products. When we do, it’s amazing how much we’ve changed and all the ways our habits have bent the shopping world.

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© 2019 New York Times Press Service


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