Selling to Online Newbies

A little extra patience and guidance can foster customer loyalty.

by Dennis L. Prince
- May 13, 2010

Did you know that roughly 52 percent of the American population has yet to venture onto the Internet? It's true, and for online sellers, that statistic indicates a tremendous opportunity to entertain and encourage a steady stream of "newbies."

New Internet users are cautious and uncertain. Wise sellers understand a newbie's hesitation, employing these methods to guide and serve the wide-eyed in their first online shopping experiences.

Serving an online newbie can be a challenge, though. Sellers want to actively attract the interest and patronage of online newcomers, yet these sellers also they know they might need to work harder to guide and direct these uninitiated cyber-market shoppers.

While not all newbies are necessarily problematic, many sellers agree that working a sale with a first-timer can require some extra effort, extra explanation and occasionally extra patience. However, if you're prepared to assist a newcomer through the sometimes-perplexing world of online buying, you'll find yourself in prime position to adopt a long-term customer for your efforts.

First, get to know your newbie

When you encounter someone who's "new in town," put your best foot forward and welcome them to the wonderful world of online shopping. At the same time, prepare yourself to provide extra help to the new shopper, guiding them through a shopping experience that's surely foreign and sometimes even intimidating to them.

For starters, be prompt in all of your communication and be prepared to answer extra questions regarding your selling terms, methods and policies. Remember that some of these new shoppers might find conducting long-distance business with complete strangers a quite daunting and uncertain undertaking. Your punctual responses and polite answers to their questions will help ease their tensions as you assure them you're there to assist with their purchase.

Remember that you're going to make an early impression upon them about how this online marketplace works

Of course, be on the lookout for the occasional dark cloud—you know, the buyer or bidder who's looking to scam—then scamper. The undesirable elements are out there, and if your newbie turns out to be this sort of ninny (well, some are), be sure your selling terms and policies clearly communicate your expectations of timely payment, return privileges and so on. If a newbie turns out to be a ne'er-do-well, trying to be clever and yet dishonorable, your preemptive policies and selling plan lets them know you're not a seller to be trifled with.

Most of all, when sizing up and making first contact with newbie shoppers, remember that you're going to make an early impression upon them about how this online marketplace works. Just as you'd warmly welcome any new customer into your brick-and-mortar store, put on your best smile and let them know you're at their service.

A newbie's shopping style: under control, or out of hand?

As you entertain a newbie buyer or bidder, try to assess their online shopping method. While it's difficult to evaluate a newcomer's activity in fixed-price venues (outside of your own), if you're meeting them in the online auction spaces, a seller quickly can ascertain whether the new shopper is adopting one of two common bidding and buying personalities:

  • The Super Cautious: Some new shoppers won't buy much at all (either in terms of dollar amount, or in regards to the number of items concurrently bid upon) until they can gain a certain level of comfort and familiarity with the online process. If this newcomer has good first encounters and believes the cyber-market to be a safe and satisfying venue, he'll typically loosen up and get a bit more active in future pursuits.
  • The Super Shopper: Other new shoppers, however, find online shopping to be a veritable playground. Although their enthusiasm is to be appreciated, a quick check of their virtual shopping cart or auction bid history might reveal they're committing to a hefty tally. So what? So, you'll want to act decisively to ensure your item will be quickly and fully paid for, lest your new customer finds they've over-committed their present bankroll as you lose other would-be sales in the process.

Of course, these are pretty much the two extremes, and you can expect a good many newbies to fall somewhere in between. And while some folks might argue it's not a seller's business to peer into how, when and how much a newcomer bids or buys, those who've been selling on a regular basis understand that it's worth noting how newbies are shopping and how to engage them to ensure the deal comes to a successful close.

The opportunity to lend a hand to a wide-eyed newcomer is when lasting customer relationships are formed

A seller's golden opportunity

Without question, a wise seller recognizes the special opportunity to aid and build rapport with new online shoppers. Although there's not much time for intense hand holding (a seller must attend to other customers, after all), there are still effective methods of engagement and approach that can help ensure a win-win situation with a newbie:

  • Set the tempo: Many new buyers aren't exactly savvy to the protocol of online buying. They might be overanxious; they might be under committed. Using good e-mail communication and your solid sales policy, get the exchange in motion once a purchase has been made. Demonstrate your tried-and-true professional business process so a newbie will know they're working with a real pro—someone who'll reliably guide a smooth transaction.
  • Be their guide: It's always good practice to help newcomers, your new customers, better understand how online fixed-price and auction sales work. Remember, if you're there to assist them, chances are they'll remember you, your products and your good business style. That's usually the recipe for earning repeat business.

Customer care

At the end of the day, a seller's bottom line is supported by the amount of care extended to customers. Though it's certainly not just newbies who frequently require additional attention, the opportunity to lend a hand to a wide-eyed newcomer is when lasting customer relationships are formed. Take the time to understand and assist newbies and they'll likely find that you're their new seller of choice.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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