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The Internet of Kings

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Via LinkedIn : Who is King in the land of online Customer Experience?

In the 19th century the US retail legend, John Wanamaker, remarked “When a customer enters my store, forget me. He is king.” This has now become one of the biggest corporate clichés in customer service history: The Customer is King.

In the 21st century the customer’s kingdom has grown both off-line and, crucially, online. But is it truly the Internet of Kings, or the internet of ‘subjects’ ruled over by a monarchy of global brands?

The Case for “The Customer is King”

  • Power of Crowds – The internet allow the clusters of customers with similar interests or issues to act as an effective ‘pressure group’. These communities can force corporation to change products, services or behaviours. The penalty for ignoring the wishes of these groups can cause catastrophic PR disasters and damage to brand image.
  • Speed of Comparison – Customers can instantly compare products and services. They share experiences and reviews allowing fast corroboration of online evidence supporting the case for a particular choice. There is nowhere for the corporation to hide online!
  • Promiscuity – Barriers to switching from company A to company B are lower than ever. Whether it’s a bank account or a utility service, there are comparison web sites and advice aimed at making the switching process fast and painless. The days of lifetime loyalty are over.

The Case for “The Corporation is King”

  • Power of Brands – The big brands still drive many of our purchasing decisions. In many industries there are a few big players who dominate the market and stifle true competition. For example, if two airlines fly the same, popular route, it’s in neither company’s interest to start a price war.
  • Owner of the Keys – In a world where ‘time poverty’ is high, we all take online ‘short cuts’ to finding the best products and services. We use the most popular search engine, the top travel review website and the biggest ‘bookseller’ (who now sell everything!) The cost of this convenience is that these corporations hold the keys to what we see and choose.
  • Loyalty – It takes a lot to break our relationship with a trusted brand. We will forgive many minor mistakes and the occasional poor experience. For example, we forgive them for not providing us with the same great deals they use to attract new customers. Buying the big brands gives us a strong internal psychological justification with our family, friends and colleagues. Just think about the almost religious regularity that people buy the same brand of car time after time.

Winners and Losers

So who are the online winners and losers? Who are the Kings of the Internet?

I perceive an uneasy symbiosis between customers and brands. We want the speed, convenience and safety offered by big corporations. In return we’re happy to sacrifice a little choice, value for money and freedom.

Is this ecosystem self-balancing, and when brands break this unwritten contract, do consumers now have the power to bite back?

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