It's not possible to overstate the use of the internet as a tool for researching and buying products and services and then as a means of getting support after the sale. For the consumer it means the entire world is a marketplace and from their house in rural Iowa they can buy products from Argentina as easily as from Zaire. For businesses it means the ability to sell to buyers in Zaire or Argentina as easily as to rural Iowans.
It also means that competition is practically infinite; at the first difficulty finding required information on a website, the customer will jump to another website without a second thought (on average, a website has about one minute to keep a visitor before he or she moves on).
The site that's easier to use and provides the most information the fastest is likely the one that will make the sale and capture a new customer for the company.
Any company website will post the expected first-level information – for example, the physical address, store or office hours, a list of the goods and services it sells, etc. – but companies which have made optimal customer experience part of their business strategy will go beyond this and implement self-service options that make available to the customer all the facts they need to make a truly informed purchase.
Not to put too fine a point on it, it's the difference between allowing a visitor to find information and allowing a customer to conduct research.
This can be of supreme importance in a sales situation in which the potential customer can't put his or her hands on the product, see if it fits, watch it work or examine it closely.
Although more and more people are used to buying items online sight unseen, many if not most do so only after much research and only from companies they feel confident about. In this context, it is imperative that a business offer visitors to its site – every one a potential customer for life – an easy way to learn all they want to learn about the product.