I like to consider myself a free-wheeling first adopter, but the consultant in me prohibits me from accepting the fate of the first lemming off the cliff. It has thus taken me a wee bit longer to acclimate myself with the online shopping experience — a possible advantage in this forum, since all you jaded experts have probably forgotten the thrill of shopping online with wild abandon, particularly in a more sophisticated e-commerce world. So, take a trip down memory lane (or anticipation lane for you really late-adopters) with me as I offer you a fresh glimpse into what it’s like being an online shopper:
“No Thanks, Just Browsing”
Thanks to Google’s Froogle and its ilk (Shopzilla, Pricegrabber, MySimon, Dealtime, Epinions, BizRate), a shopper can browse around the entire Internet, rather than just one store at a time. Unfortunately, these browsing tools are set up for shoppers who already know what they’re looking for and they’re essentially looking around for bargains.
What happens to the shopper who just wants to browse without purpose, a shopper who enjoys the experience of carefree spending as much as a walk in the park, the notorious window-shopper with the unpredictable buying impulse? These shoppers spend billions, too, and yet, there’s nothing online that facilitates spending for these shoppers. (By the way, for you obsessive-compulsive marketers reading this, these shoppers aren’t a separate consumer segment for you to attack on a separate budget. These shoppers can materialize any time in anyone, and despite the insistence of husbands throughout history, not a permanent behavior).
Can Window Shopping Become “Monitor-Screen” Shopping?
Analyzing the window shopping behavior takes patience. It seems irrational at first — idly wasting time looking for things you want to buy but don’t intend on buying. Many even enter shops, grab items, and put them back just when they’re about to leave — it’s enough to make a retailer stark-raving mad trying to understand. But the behavior is equivalent to flipping television channels or even eating lunch out of the office when the person normally eats at the cafeteria (or vice versa). The behavior is an attempt to seek diversion from the ordinary; a break, with the explicit purpose of changing one’s thoughts, not actually engaging in a transaction.
Thus, window-shopping is actually a misnomer, since the person engages in the behavior to entertain him/herself. What makes a person return to a place they’ve window-shopped to buy what they saw on a prior visit is actually the retailer’s presentation of their goods. The merchandising caused the shopper to slip into decision-making mode, whereby they’re a step closer to a transaction than they originally intended to be. (The transition occurs when they initiate a mental list of things they’d like to pick up. The rest is text-book decision-making processes.)
Because every category of display appeals to different people at different times, every merchant naturally benefits from tailoring their displays to different themes, whether based on season or local flavors. (This is why the holidays are such a blessing; the mood is created by society-at-large and all the retailer has to do is cater to it.)
Unfortunately (for retailers), “monitor-screen shopping” for diversion is just one of a million ways one can entertain themselves with their computer, and as a result, online retailers have not focused on this behavior, much to their loss. But how could an online retailer exploit the “monitor-screen shopping” behavior without additional costs, clutter, and without negatively impacting their brand?