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Differences Between Online and Offline Customers

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by Tracy Mu Sung

When undertaking an online marketing campaign for your business it’s important to understand that your online and offline customers are not necessarily the same group of people. They will likely want different things, have different questions and prioritise things very differently from your traditional customers.
Below are just some of the ways your online and offline customers may differ (although it will depend a lot on the industry).

Geographic Location

This is the most obvious one. Depending on where you can ship to, your customers may no longer be restricted by geographic location. If you are targeting new areas, you need to consider whether customers in those new areas need different information? Different payment methods or languages are the obvious ones, but it could also be something as simple as – people in some towns preferring certain styles or products to others. People living in different areas may have different concerns. One obvious example is that your northern hemisphere customers won’t be looking for swimwear at the same time as your southern hemisphere ones.


Online customers are time-poor. Recreating your store experience online – with flash or video to create ambience – might not work for people who don’t have a lot of time on their hands. For example, the Alannah Hill site used to have a very whimsical flash site which suited their brand, but didn’t suit online shopping. They have since updated their site to focus more on what online shoppers are looking for.

Not good for online shoppers


Better for online shoppers



Price Savvy

Online customers are price-savvy. Comparing prices is a lot easier to do online versus in store, so make sure your prices are easy to find. If your prices aren’t your strongest point, make sure your product specs/details outline clearly why this higher price is still a good purchase. e.g. Free Shipping? Longer warranty? Extra care or free gifts?

Online Customers Can Be Mobile

Although different to offline customers, your online customers are not a homogeneous group themselves. Some of them aren’t on their desktop or laptop, many of them are out and about when they find your site on their smartphone. Is your website able to handle that? How does your website look on a smartphone right now?

The Essentials for Online Retail

While the ‘essentials’ for a website will differ by industry, there are always going to be a few key pieces of information that a customer wants to know. For example, in online retail they are;
– Secure payment gateways
– Easy access to help/contact or at least lots of FAQ’s
– Delivery & Returns policies clearly stated
– Clear prices, images and specs for all products.

The Essentials for Restaurant Websites

While I’m not going to go through a big list of industries, I do want to call out restaurant websites here because, until recently, I found them to be some of the worst offenders when it comes to building a website for users.
The menu’s are often only viewable as a downloadable PDF, the sites are often slow and in flash and they often haven’t been updated in a long time. The Oatmeal has written a great basic list of essentials for this industry (even if it is a joke, I consider it good advice).

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