Study: User Satisfaction Key to Viral Marketing

It might seem a no-brainer, but e-tailers often ignore the fact that they have to keep existing users happy to reap the benefits of new client referrals, according to a study by Taylor Nelson Sofres.

The research firm found that while viral marketing efforts could provide enormous benefits to e-commerce sites by bringing in new users, most companies fail to fully appreciate the promotional benefits of user satisfaction.

In a recent six-month survey in Europe, the company found that more than a third of Internet users were dissatisfied with portions of their experience at an e-tailer’s site. Thirty-seven percent said they were unhappy or indifferent toward the regularity of updates, while 33 percent said they disapproved of personalization features. Thirty-two percent said they each were dissatisfied with the quality of search tools, and the download speed.

While TNS found that 98 percent of satisfied users say they would recommend a site to someone they know, only 1 percent of dissatisfied users would do the same.

That could spell big problems for e-tailers, since the research indicates that word-of-mouth referrals — prompted by good experiences with sellers — contributes to building a regular customer base more than do search engines.

Nearly twice as many regular users of an e-commerce site said they first visited after being referred by friends or relatives, rather than reaching the site via a serarch engine, according to the study.

“This study confirms that web site user satisfaction not only encourages repeat use but is essential in driving traffic to the site in the first place,” said Arno Hummerston, worldwide head of TNS Interactive Solutions. “The importance of personal recommendation for attracting loyal users means unsatisfactory sites undermine the opportunity to expand their long-term user base.”

E-tailers do win high marks in some areas, however. The survey found that most users — 71 percent — were happy with site navigation, while nearly as many said they were satisfied with user friendliness. About the same percentage said they were pleased with the level of content and information provided by e-commerce sites.

“The research shows that as user demands evolve, companies need to continually strive to understand exactly what satisfies their users, ensuring they regularly visit the site and personally recommend it to third parties,” Hummerston said.

The findings come almost a year after Jupiter Media Metrix found that only a scant few online marketers attempt to track the success of their viral marketing efforts. As a result, few e-tailers understand the significant contribution that referrals play in their business.

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