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Study: Simplify e-commerce sites

More online shoppers are rejecting confusing Web sites. And once they leave, most don't come back, the report finds.

There's no question that people are heading online with their wallets and shopping lists, but actually finding the items they are looking for is proving to be much more difficult.

While online shopping is growing in popularity, why consumers aren't spending more time forking over their dollars may have to do with how hard it is for shoppers to track down specific products, according to a recent report by Zona Research.

In a survey of 239 Internet-savvy users who had shopped on the Web within the past 60 days, Zona found that a third had shopped on the Net roughly once every other week, more than a quarter reported hitting online stores once a week, and a third scouted the Internet for bargains about twice a week or more.

However, Zona's research found that one out of every three respondents felt it was somewhat or extremely difficult to find the specific products they wanted to buy over the Net.

"Clearly, if almost 30 percent of Internet-savvy users--people who use the network professionally on a daily basis--are finding it difficult to find the product they want, we believe the difficult level of the average Web shopper is much higher," the report stated.

More than 60 percent of respondents gave up looking for a product at least once in the 60-day period, 20 percent gave up more than three times, and six percent gave up six or more times. And shoppers leaving online stores empty-handed are less likely to return to that specific site after a couple of shopping strikes, according to the survey.

While brick-and-mortar stores' physical location may lure previously disappointed customers back, once a shopper becomes frustrated with an online shopping site and finds another site that proves more successful, there is little reason or even reminder to nudge them back to the first store.

"The simplicity of clicking to a different site where finding and buying may be easier represents a grave threat to vendors...Drop-offs [those who give up in their search] may translate into substantially diminished business potential," according to the report.

The Commerce Department predicts that e-commerce will reach $300 billion by 2002. According to an earlier report released by CyberDialogue in February, last year 11 million adults bought something online and online purchases exceeded $3 billion.

But in a separate report that CyberDialogue conducted jointly with Find/SVP and released in May, researchers found consumers spent even more money--$4.2 billion--making offline purchases after getting product information online.

Zona's survey, conducted during August 1998, questioned the habits of middle management, technical staff, senior management, consulting, sales, and clerical employees at firms garnering $1 million to more than $1 billion in revenues a year.