By learning the psychological, contextual and practical factors that influence shoppers, an online business can position itself to increase sales by meeting customer needs and fulfilling expectations.

According to an October 2011 survey by the e-tailing group, an organization that studies online retail trends, shoppers are influenced by 10 key website features: shipping, returns, sales, coupons, discounts, rewards, time-sensitive deals, bulk savings, and bonus with purchase.

An analysis and three cross-channel lessons.

Here are the numbers for each of these 10 website features:

  • 73% of online shoppers want unconditional free shipping.
  • 70% of online shoppers want free returns.
  • 62% of online shoppers want a special section on the website that focuses on sales and specials.
  • 56% of online shoppers want coupons, rebates, cash back, or discounts.
  • 54% of online shoppers want a percentage off a product, a product line, or a category.
  • 46% of online shoppers want rewards or loyalty points.
  • 43% of online shoppers want to know where to find the limited time only deals.
  • 42% of online shoppers want free shipping when they reach a certain spending level.
  • 34% of online shoppers want bulk discounts, saving more by buying more.
  • 31% of online shoppers want a free gift with their purchase.

Most of these data will probably not surprise you too much but there is more than meets the eye besides the fact that promotions seem to do well on websites, just as people adore them on social networks.

Three less obvious lessons this data can teach you about and beyond online shopping:

1. Marketing conversion: remove the silos.

It’s clear that most of these website features work because they are what consumers seek. On top of branding, inbound and outbound dialog marketing and community marketing, that all in the end strive towards an improved bottom-line as well, optimizing your website is a necessity, just as marketing optimization is a must. Obviously, the digital signals, needs and intentions of website visitors, consumers, prospects and connections, are key to improve everything we do as marketers. People love coupons, rewards, loyalty points and an excellent experience and customer service. Looking at what visitors need makes your website a better source of leads and sales. However, it’s not only on your website alone. So take a look at these factors and understand how you can use them in your customer-centric and cross-channel marketing conversion program. Many of the mentioned features work very well in email marketing, social media marketing etc. too. Offer a consistent experience and remove the silos across which many of the above mentioned features are managed (such as customer service, online marketing, etc.). Finally, offer the features your visitors seek, regardless of your activities.

2. Branding: let the benefits match the tasks.

Depending on the business and context, much of this information can be used to shape branding. For instance, the tagline on WalMart’s website focuses on how you can improve the quality of your life by saving more money on the things you buy. This fits in with large percentages of consumers who want to save more. Similarly, often advertises free shipping or waiving shipping when buyers reach a certain shopping amount. Since these benefits have become associated with these retailers, they have subtly branded themselves. Look at your website features that work best and include them in branding, which is largely defined by the customer experience. Don’t just talk about your brand difference, act upon it in a consistent way by meeting your customer’s needs. Even if you are not a retailer your own top website features are worth a look from the branding perspective. Your brand and website features should match your visitor’s needs and tasks, regardless of channel or online destination, anyway.

3. Social marketing: customer service and promotions.

Since shoppers love to Twitter their fans about their latest bargains, a website that offers promotions to shape their marketing and branding will attract customers by word-of-mouth.

The buzz about great bargains or great shopping benefits can quickly spread virally across the Internet. Obviously, social media is about much more than just promotions but there is no ignoring it: until further notice, the social connections between a brand and a consumer predominantly start – and even are driven – by promotions. An excellent customer service plays a big role as well. Just watch the website features that matter to see where you can make a difference.

All this being said, in the end, the question is not what website features influence shoppers, website visitors, email subscribers, social connections and whatnot. The real challenge is to enable people to influence your website and other features!

Download the full report, called The Connected Consumer, and tackling more topics, by the e-tailing group (PDF opens).