The Sociology of the Internet Consumer (part 1)

By: 
Bryan Meadan

For those of you who followed the SOPA / PIPA saga, know that, at least for now, the Internet has defeated the Congressional Hollywood lobbyists and the "public servants" they have in their deep pockets. It's a good thing and we should all be proud. As a Sociologist I am well aware of the flaws of that statement, but it serves as a good introduction to what I really want to discuss, and that is the Internet Consumer -- both the consumer of what the Internet has to offer, and the traditional consumer who basically uses the tools of the Internet to consume.

Technophobes

I need to start by discussing a modern creature that you, an Internet consumer (and I know your are by the fact that you are reading this), may not be aware exists. That creature is the Internetphobe*. The Internetphobe has developed over time, at first not using the then new technology at all. Today, there are several kinds of Internetphobes, the most common, the one afraid to purchase anything over the net. The main reason for this fear is identity theft -- granted a legitimate angst, but in reality much less dangerous than giving your credit card to the waiter and not watching him actually swipe and return the card.

Do you remember the first time you saw someone at the super market talking on a cell with a significant other phone about what cereal to buy? I remember laughing and then calling someone to tell them about it. I also thought it was a great idea. Most of us have lost touch with the novelty of seeing someone do something exciting with phone technology. (How did we ever actually meet each other in public?) Not the technophobe/Internetphobe. They don't miss a beat. And they are not going to be your target audience for your new online store ... at least not yet.

I mention these people because they are a dying group that you need to understand when planning your site. You need to make sure that you are not like that (anymore). In order to create a successful online purchasing experience, you need to understand the Internet consumer and how she came to be. The Internetphobe (of which we now know there are several in Congress), will not understand, and not allow you to create this web presence. Keep that in mind as we move forward.

The Internet consumer is a fickle creature. They will see a web site, hope to be able to navigate it, find an item, read it, share it, or purchase it. Some with that ever-present angst, and some with the exhilaration of a skydive. Some are addicted and some are thrifty. Some are critical, others haven't a clue. There are groves more web pages than people on this planet, and if you are going to hold Internet consumers for more than a click, you need to have something they want. You need to present it correctly, and you need allow them to get at it quickly and easily.

If you are selling something, and the consumer happens to wander over to your site, make sure you close the deal. In order to do that you need a well built site with the important items out front. Think of the average clothing store in the mall. You have your attractive items out front, more complex ones inside, and your sales team pushes the customer toward the goal of purchasing as much as possible. On your website it isn't that different. If you have many items, get your Internet customer to browse easily and find what he wants. If you have one item that is key, just go to Apple and see how they do it. Need I say more.

So many organizations spend fortunes on SEO and then lose their customers in a labyrinth of taxonomy, featured products, navigation buttons to nowhere, and search results that really don't help. It's simple: Ask yourself what you really want your Internet consumer to do, and push her there from the start.

Even an Internetphobe will tell you that when you don't do that you're hurting your chances of getting him past his fears.

* Other terms that have been used: Interphobe, Online Technophobe, Neo-Luddite.

About the Author

Bryan Meadan Sociologist of the Internet

Bryan Meadan invented the Internet. Just kidding. But as a Sociologist and Web Developer he has been using sociology as a tool to create better sites since 1996. He builds exclusively with the Drupal Content Management Platform, and lectures and consults for businesses and non-profits around the globe.