If you’re involved in e-commerce or plan to be in the near future, it’s very important to understand the difference between shopping online and buying online. The two experiences are different, and your customers want you to provide both on your website.
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Shopping is about discovery, excitement, and education. When we shop, we’re examining what’s available for sale, determining what offerings appeal to us, learning about features, benefits, and prices, and ultimately, entertaining ourselves.
Shoppers often consider items on the category level – for example, show me all earrings – versus searching for a more specific, individual level, such as gold hoop earrings by David Yurman. Shopping is a way for people to familiarize themselves with all of the offerings in the marketplace, and people will often shop for items they have no intention or ability to buy. Shopping satisfies the curiosity.
Shopping behavior is often motivated by a want to do something, rather than a need to acquire a specific item or service. Interactive features that allow website visitors to try a product in different colors, customize their selection, or play a game appeal to shoppers.
Buying is a purpose-driven behavior. When people buy online, they do so in order to fulfill a need. That need may be deadly serious, completely frivolous, or somewhere in between.
Needs can be divided into two categories – low involvement and high involvement. Low involvement purchases are the sort of items people buy on auto-pilot, like pet food and laundry soap. There’s no real thought required. High involvement purchases are generally much more expensive – think electronics, fine jewelry, cars – which means website visitors spend more time delving into product details, comparing options, reading reviews, and researching.
What This Means for Your E-commerce Website
Your customers are just like you: sometimes they want to shop, and sometimes they want to buy. Your challenge is to deliver both experiences via your e-commerce platform. This is frankly where things fall apart for a lot of businesses. The most commonly available e-commerce platforms prioritize the buying experience over the shopping experience. That’s why you can search for a blue suit but not for ‘what to wear to a job interview’.
Smart web design means you can go beyond the traditional e-commerce experience. It’s essential to make it easy for your customers to buy. Appealing to your shoppers means bringing your merchandising expertise online. Create and use imagery with the same care you devote to in-store displays. Take advantage of blogs and sliders to present curated collections – the next best thing to personal recommendations. And while we’re talking personal recommendations, make sure your live chat feature can connect a shopper with a knowledgeable staffer who can point out the best new spring looks or the perfect gift for Uncle Joe.
Shop your website. Spend time on it the way a customer would, browsing without any definite purchase plans in mind. Is it an enjoyable experience? Are you having fun? If the answer is no, it’s time to start thinking about how you can improve the customer experience by upgrading your website.