06/13/2016 02:56 EDT | Updated 06/14/2017 05:12 EDT

Transparency Helps Customers Get The Most Out Of Online Shopping

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With a world of information at their fingertips, today's consumers are used to being able to quickly access information about nearly any topic, whether they are looking for the best price on a pair of shoes or shopping around on the Internet before making more complex purchase decisions, like travel or real estate.

Sites like Google and Amazon have blazed a path for consumers' high expectations around information access and transparency, generating consumer demand for transparency around pricing and other factors involved in the purchase decision. This demand for transparency is now transforming entire industries.

Goodbye Loyalty, Hello Bargain Shopping

The travel industry is one that is being impacted by changing consumer demands for access to information and transparency. One of the biggest impacts has been in the area of customer loyalty. Airlines once invested heavily in developing customer loyalty programs to keep their satisfied customers coming back to fly on their airline. Free airline miles, luxurious wood-paneled lounges in airports around the world, and concierge service for their best customers helped airlines keep their margins high in the era following deregulation of the industry in the late 1980s. For the majority of airline customers today, however, loyalty programs no longer trump the ability to find the lowest fare. Now, customers use sites like Trivago and TripAdvisor to find bargain deals on airfare instead of going with a preferred airline.

The move away from customer loyalty isn't happening in just the travel industry. In the age of transparency, loyalty is harder to come by for all businesses. 59 per cent of eCommerce customers report that the ability to comparison shop is why they prefer to shop online. Price-matching guarantees are one way big box retailers like Best Buy, Target and Staples are remaining competitive in the age of e-commerce and meeting consumer demand for the lowest prices on the products they buy.

Transparency Transforms the Energy Industry

Customer demand for transparency is even transforming industries you wouldn't expect. Take the heating and cooling industry, long known for its price fluctuations and complex hidden costs. Customers in warm climates know that the time to buy an air conditioner is during the winter when demand is low. Today, if AC units are too expensive in their local stores customers can compare prices on the Internet, select one with the lowest price and have it shipped from anywhere.

This ability to comparison shop and demand for transparency is even transforming the energy industry itself. One company that is not just responding but actually contributing to this change is Electricity Match. The Texas-based company offers price matching and the ability to comparison shop for electricity services to customers in deregulated markets like Texas, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts.

Customers simply log in to the site and enter their zip code to see the best electricity pricing plans available in their market. Customers can compare more than just price: they can also compare customer service ratings, term lengths or even how much of the electricity comes from renewable energy sources like wind, and popular pricing plans.

This could save customers hundreds on their heating and cooling costs, cut hidden costs and take control of the source of their electricity. "Electric service is essentially a commodity," says Electricity Match founder Charlie Hewitt. "We combine online price comparisons with plain language market information to de-mystify the shopping experience for the customer." The kind of transparency a service like this offers is important to customers, helping them make more informed decisions about their energy provider.

Transparency: Key to Unlocking the Digital Customer

Once upon a time, simply making a great product and offering it at a competitive price was enough to inspire customer loyalty. But now, customers are demanding more information and transparency to help make more informed decisions, Brands that want to stay competitive in the digital era need to provide not just a great product; they also need to provide detailed information about those products and a price that other competitors can't beat. Successful companies will be those that understand that transparency around pricing and the other factors consumers care about will be the key to success as consumers increasingly take their business online.

Brand transparency is taking on a new meaning in the digital era. With so much information available online, customers want an honest glimpse at their available product choices so they can make a truly informed decision. Price matching is taking over all industries that sell to consumers, and the successful companies are the ones that advocate for the consumer's best interests rather than exploiting them for their money.

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