Heidi West, MA Student
Fielding Graduate University
For decades, businesses have studied consumer behavior, tracked spending trends, and developed products for the consumers. With the onset of the digital age, consumers might have assumed that the Internet provided an opportunity to level the playing field. The democracy of the Internet allowed consumers to study businesses and products and share their findings across millions of networks. One might assume information now became power for the consumer; however, businesses have since exclaimed, “Check mate.” While consumers use the Internet for consuming and sharing information, businesses use it to invade consumers’ personal lives via emails, social media, and telephones. Therefore, in the fight to control e-commerce, it appears the Internet has empowered businesses more than it has empowered consumers.
Behind most brands are teams of neuromarketers, psychologists, marketing specialists and graphic designers with expertise in advertising to create products that consistently appeal to the consumers’ emotions, habits, and desires. In response, consumers reflexively toss the brand into online carts and head to the checkout page. According to Neale Martin, author of Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, brands are essentially preventing consumers from deliberating over a purchase by using psychological mechanisms to direct consumers’ buying behaviors (Martin, 2015).
Brands are then reinforcing purchasing habits through strategic reward systems, such as loyalty points or discount coupons (Martin, 2015). Martin claims these small acts of gratitude strengthen the business-to-consumer relationship, while deliberately cultivating consumer indebtedness. As a result, consumers feel an obligation to repay the brand for their generosity, thus using their rewards toward future purchases (Weinschenk, 2009).
Loyal consumers not only generate revenue, but they are key players in online media marketing strategies. Marcel Munoz, chief technology officer for an e-commerce software firm, argues satisfied consumers provide brands with free word-of-mouth endorsements. In fact, over 90% of consumers seek peer advice before making purchases (Keim, 2014), which in 2013, amounted to $2.7 billion in e-commerce revenue (Munoz, 2015). It would be naïve to assume brands haven’t considered the potential wrath of negative consumer reviews; however, brands also seek guidance from public relations teams to monitor consumer trends and anticipate product dissatisfaction to ensure that consumer-brand trust remains a priority.
Social media marketing also affords brands cost-effective commercial advertising, such as cloud computing, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to cross-utilize services (Kawasaki, 2015). Other social media apps, like Buffer, allow brands to schedule social media posts for release across multiple platforms to reach thousands of consumers at the click of a mouse (Kawasaki, 2015). With several brands in their online backyard, consumers are less likely to go hunting for products elsewhere. As Bernays (1928) predicted, “Society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds” (p. 39).
In a sea of social media noise, brands cannot appeal to all consumer tastes; therefore, they target an audience to study their values, ideals, and goals to provide those consumers with self-identifying products (Neudecker, Hupp, Stein, & Schuster, 2013). When consumers connect with products, they indirectly connect with brands. In other words, “The product is the medium; therefore, the product is the message” (Formosa, 2015, p. 7). As a result, brands become a part of a consumer’s identity and a staple on their shopping list (Neudecker, et al., 2013).
Once brands have drawn in consumers with advertising and product quality, the brands shift their focus to social commerce, which supports two-way communication between businesses and consumers (Hajli & Sims, 2015). Studies have found that “consumers can form relationships with brands in the same way they can form relationships in social contexts” (Aggarwal, 2004, p. 87, as cited in Neudecker, et al., 2013, p.23). Brands reinforce social commerce by involving consumers in the creative process, asking them to share personal experiences with the products, provide positive or constructive feedback, and invest in the product’s future (Hajli & Sims, 2015). Consequently, satisfied consumers are enticed to provide positive social support and product feedback through formal and informal social networks, possibly boosting e-commerce sales and shaping peer purchasing behaviors (Hajli & Sims, 2015).
Do consumers control today’s e-commerce? I argue that the digital age has only brought more control to brands that create consumer-buying habits, influence purchasing decisions, and capitalize on free consumer endorsements. As long as brands pursue social media marketing and solidify consumer satisfaction, they will maintain control of e-commerce sales.
Bernays, E. (1928). Propaganda. Brooklyn: Ig Publishing.
Hajli, N., & Sims, J. (2015). Social Commerce: The transfer of power from sellers to buyers. Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 2015.
Kawasaki, G. (2015, March 5). Brainfluence Podcast Episode #48: Guy Kawasaki and The Art of The Start 2.0. (R. Dooley, Interviewer)
Martin, N. (2015, February 26). Brainfluence Podcast Episode #47: Habit, and Why Marketers Ignore It with Neale Martin. (R. Dooley, Interviewer)
Neudecker, N., Hupp, O., Stein, A., & Schuster, H. (2013). Is Your Brand a One-Night Stand? Managing Consumer-Brand Relationships. Marketing Review St. Gallen , 30 (6), 22-33.
O’Brien, C. (2011). The Emergence of the Social Media Empowered Consumer. Irish Marketing Review , 21 (1/2), 32-40.
Weinschenk, S. (2009). Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? Thousand Oaks: New Riders.