Online Shoppers Favour Small Retailers

A ‘blind test’ has revealed that online shoppers prefer to buy from small retailers than large ones, citing personality as a major reason.

Seven out of ten of 200 participants in focus groups commissioned by Yell UK and conducted by Southampton University said they looked for the “sense of an authentic person behind the business” when buying online.

Overall, more than half of participants in blind head-to-head tests between small and large businesses selling the same products said they would rather buy from the site belonging to the smaller business. Just 36 per cent opted for the larger business’s site.

Authenticity, simplicity and proximity were given as the key drivers that consumers looked for in online retailers – with more than 40 per cent of participants saying they placed high importance on a business being local to them, even when shopping online.

“Our unique research illustrates how digital marketing has torn down the traditional barriers to promotion, allowing small businesses to compete with larger players like never before,”

said Richard Hanscott, chief executive of Yell UK.

“Contrary to perceived wisdom, consumers are not reassured by dealing with a large firm or brand online. In fact, the opposite is the case.”

Rich Brady of Denbigh Army Surplus, which makes 70 per cent of its sales online, said that the personal touch gave small firms a big advantage.

“The one thing consumers can expect from small retailers like us is a real person ? whether that’s on the phone or in an email.”

“Small firms are run by people who have a passion for their product,” added Brady. “When you call them up, they know all the weird and wonderful things about their products that you perhaps don’t get from a large company.”

Brady said that being close enough for people to visit in person if there’s a communication breakdown was reassuring to online customers.

“Selling anything is about reducing fear — even more so online.”

However, he acknowledged that Amazon, for example, had the resources to build successful automated customer service systems and that search engine presence was at least as important as personal appeal.

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