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Are Your Shoppers Bored with the Online Experience?

Posted on 9.04.2014

By Garrett Eastham, Edgecase


Be honest, do you know if your online store is fun and engaging for customers? Are you overwhelming or underwhelming customers with search results? More importantly, are you helping customers purchase items they know they want as well as helping them discover new products? 

We recently set out to discover what real customers thought about the online experience. We wanted to know how shoppers search and navigate through online sites and why. We also wanted to know what customers really think about their navigation options on a retail site. Together with Lauren Freedman, founder of the e-tailing group, we conducted an in-person study to observe real-time responses. The main take-away from the online shopper study was surprising - shopper after shopper told us—"We're bored." 

Full results, captured in the Shopper Navigation & Discovery Study, provide an explicit view of how consumers shop in stores and online. When asked about their discovery experience on top retail sites, shoppers gave a “mixed bag” average rating of 6 out of 10, leaving plenty of room for improvement in the discovery process for even the biggest retailers. 

Shoppers value their time and are increasingly frustrated by shopping experiences cluttered by excessive clicks and wait times just to make navigation refinements. These frustrations are amplified by onsite navigation through massive lists of options and irrelevant details. We found that 52 percent of shoppers felt that current websites have become overwhelming, uninspiring and “old school”, leading to passive visual scanning. Other results from the study include:

Shoppers are uninspired and underwhelmed

Shoppers repeatedly expressed that online discovery and navigation experiences lacked creativity and are just “more of the same.” They consequently rated top retail site experiences an average 5 out of 10. This unimaginative "sameness" is leaving shoppers uninspired, and it’s in direct conflict with the goal expressed by 67 percent of shoppers in the study who go online specifically to browse and window-shop for fun. Additionally, 70 percent of those surveyed go online for inspiration when they don’t know what they want. If retailers can differentiate themselves by focusing each product to the most relevant audience, a vast opportunity exists to sell an “inspired buy” to those consumers.

“Retailers really need to be thinking about what they can do to differentiate their brands, assortments and merchandising,” said Freedman. “This differentiation helps bring bored shoppers back to life when navigating a retail site.” 

Shoppers have a fear of missing out (FOMO)

One of the most surprising findings in the study was that 73 percent of shoppers surveyed expressed explicit fear that they would miss out on the right product for them when shopping online. 

The study concurrently found strong aversion to on-site search. Shoppers were wary of applying too many filters on a retailers’ website largely because they were worried they would exclude relevant options. In fact, 70 percent of shoppers opted for browse-based navigation, scrolling and visually scanning hundreds of products. Common phrases we heard included “I’m always afraid I’m going to miss something” and “I’d be afraid I’d over filter and miss something.” Though filters are meant to sharpen customers’ navigation, it seems they just cause trouble by excessive screening of inventory. The fear of missing out effect reduces a shopper’s confidence in the purchase process, ultimately reducing customer satisfaction and conversion.

Shoppers feel powerless and limited

The study also found that many shoppers have completely given up on the site search bar after being continually presented with limited or irrelevant results. They felt like they were limited to certain single keywords rather than more detailed product characteristics. We were not surprised to learn that 40 percent of consumers did not trust that the search bar would yield relevant results. How can retailers offer shoppers a product discovery option that’s tactical and inspirational?

Most online shops categorize products like a manufacturer, by attributes. Use merchandising language and product categorization that reflects shopper speak, allowing for your shoppers to navigate and filter for products using their own words.

A shopper should never encounter “no results.” Utilize “soft filter” options that retain exact and similar items in the shoppers consideration set, keeping them interested even if you don't have an exact match.

Although research tells us that e-commerce continues to grow at a very fast rate, it is important to closely consider the overall online customer experience. Is it engaging or cookie cutter? Retailers take heed; there are three concepts that we heard loud and clear:

Simplify: 69 percent of consumers shop with a specific occasion or scenario in mind. Give shoppers a simple path to follow and create naturally engaging ways for them to tell you explicitly what they are looking for. Just because you have a filter doesn't mean every user wants to see it. 

Hand over the reins: 52 percent of shoppers in our study explicitly stated their desire for more control over their shopping experience. Allow shoppers to use their own language and preferences to find products, and don't limit the product options by "hard filtering" products that don't exactly match.

Be unique: Your brand and your products are as distinct as your shoppers are. Continuously create fresh, interesting product content to one or all of your customer micro-segments. This could be as simple as allowing a shopper to filter by "pockets" or using a scenario

Today’s “super” shopper is savvy, armed with the latest tools and devices that make them an “all-knowing” being. Yet we forget that these shoppers are also just people, with emotions and diverse backstories that influence their shopping behaviors. Shopping is an experience, not a task. By taking the boredom out of online shopping, it stands to reason that key metrics including conversion, engagement, brand loyalty, return rates and AOV would all be positively impacted.


Garrett Eastham is the CEO and co-founder of Edgecase. He is a marketing technologist helping leading brands create and deliver value from their digital consumer experiences. Garrett holds a BS in Computer Science from Stanford University, where his research work in semantic search and human computer interaction formed the theoretical basis for the Edgecase solution and architecture.

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