Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

Through a new joint survey, Compare Metrics and the e-tailing group have concluded that 67 percent of shoppers want to shop online because they find it fun and efficient, but most respondents still find their current shopping experiences uninspiring.

Of the 33 consumers in the study (which involved an online questionnaire and in-person sessions), 21 do 50 percent to 75 percent of their shopping online, while 11 conduct 25 percent to half online.

Asked to rate discovery experiences on top retail sites, respondents gave an average of six out of 10. More than half (52 percent) felt the majority of current web sites have become overwhelming due to a variety of factors, including irrelevant product details and content that distracts from visual elements.

"The shoppers do want more but they don’t want it all shoved at them at one time," said Lisa Roberts, VP of marketing at Compare Metrics. "For us, it feels like [shoppers] wanted this mix of simplicity with inspiration."

About three-quarters (73 percent) express fear of missing out (FOMO) when searching for products online. These consumers believe their searches are often misinterpreted and that "absolute" filters cut out product options they would have otherwise considered.

"That was a massive ‘aha moment’ for us," Ms. Roberts said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. "It really was shoppers not trusting their search results and truly being afraid to select a certain filter."

Perhaps in an effort to address "shopper FOMO," 70 percent use browse-based navigation tools for product discovery instead of the traditional search box. Reported reasons for not using traditional search include limited and irrelevant results and feeling restricted to specific search categories.

The study points to three ways to create an optimal search experiences for shoppers:

  • Create and refresh unique product content;
  • Simplify the process by using standard default filters instead of custom ones; and
  • Let shoppers identify the collection of filters they care most about, without limiting product options.

"In many ways, online is very cookie cutter, and that’s not just in search," Ms. Freedman said. "It’s in a lot of areas, where you can close your eyes and you couldn’t tell the difference between one site and another except for maybe the product that’s being sold. So I think it really comes down to differentiation. Retailers really need to be thinking about what they can do to differentiate their brands, assortments and merchandising."

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Are current search tools inhibiting or frustrating online discovery on e-commerce websites? Are we at a point where e-commerce websites have to move away from being “cookie cutter” to offering customized differentiation down to search filters?

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16 responses to “New study reveals consumers are ‘uninspired’ by online shopping”

  1. Bob Phibbs Avatar
    Bob Phibbs

    I’d be curious to see what stats are on mobile for this as well, or if what I’m reading, its that mobile’s real appeal is geospam, that’s good for IT marketing vs discovery for actual shoppers.

  2. Kevin Graff Avatar
    Kevin Graff

    Online shopping is uninspiring because humans are innately social. There’s nothing truly social about online shopping.

    Most would rather go to a mall or store provides the retailer provides a decent shopping experience. That’s the opportunity for stores … pick up your game in-store through better staff performance and environments.

  3. Max Goldberg Avatar
    Max Goldberg

    It’s frustrating to shop at a website and struggle to find what you are looking for. We’ve all had that experience. Retailers need to make it easier for consumers to search their sites, to ascertain the cost of shipping, to find exchange/return policies and to get their questions answered. It’s all about customer service and experience, not about making one site’s graphics different from another’s. That is why Amazon is so successful and so many online retailers are not.

  4. Mohamed Amer Avatar
    Mohamed Amer

    This is a legitimate topic but I struggle with reliability in the results coming out of a sample of 33 consumers.

    The whole idea of “discovery” for online shoppers is a transplant of how we believe shoppers had pursued shopping in physical stores as they browse, touch, and choose what to buy. Today’s consumers do a significant amount of their discovery (searches) before they ever get to a specific retailer’s website. The search filters help them get to what they already want to see. Perhaps the results would vary widely across the different retail sub-verticals and specific product categories.

    As to differentiated customer experiences on e-commerce websites, it’s a double-edged sword. Brands need to differentiate themselves at all consumer touchpoints inclusive of their online presence, yet consumers expect familiar (intuitive) navigation, search, checkout, etc.

  5. Chris Petersen, PhD Avatar
    Chris Petersen, PhD

    Shopping has always been contextual. When the consumer knows exactly what she wants, search becomes a matter of filters and keywords to find it online. However, if the consumer wants to explore what is possible or do comparisons, that becomes much more difficult online with just a search “tree.”

    As Kevin Graff noted, there is a social component to shopping, especially when the consumer is exploring what is possible. It is in the social context of shopping where retail stores should be differentiating. Now if I could just find a retail store person on the floor to talk with.

  6. Shep Hyken Avatar
    Shep Hyken

    The website is an extension of the brand. First and foremost, it must be simple and functional. That’s table stakes. From there you can create an experience. There can be interactivity and gamification. For a great example, look at Home Shopping Network and notice their arcade and daily special. People come back day after day for those features. Amazon.com personalizes the experience by reminding the customer what they’ve bought in the past and what they have looked at. That type of personalization connects with their customers at a higher level than any “cookie cutter” website.

  7. Gordon Arnold Avatar
    Gordon Arnold

    Today’s online shopper is deluged with superfluous information which often is designed to distract the user from his or her mission. One of the results of this burdensome site content is the apathy divulged in this discussion. When delivering a company’s message supersedes the customers desire to find pertinent information and complete a task, customer relations can and will spiral downward.

    As for search engine content and effectiveness failures, the reason is quite simple. Search engines turn over key word editing to the companies that are signing on to be seen and heard. Most of the editors have very little knowledge and experience or attack the problem with an agenda as a priority in place of customer service. The frustrations are easy to see when a consumer starts searching through a wide variety of e-commerce sites that carry none of the specific products being sought after.

    In short, word and phrase relevance is the key to success in this discussion topic and allowing companies to make them ambiguous or even worthless has brought us to where we are in terms of the perceived uselessness of search engines by most users. This same problem is also firmly entrenched in most company sites serving to create additional time delays in the search for products, services and information used to support buying decisions. Such glaring problems will continue for as long as site visits outweigh the value of a successful sale.

  8. Daryle Hier Avatar
    Daryle Hier

    Where to start? This could be a long dissertation but instead, here’s simply what we know and should do.

    To the point, search engines on e-commerce sites are poor. Even with Amazon, it’s been discussed that consumers rely on Google searches to find what they’re looking for on Amazon.

    Information overload is quite an issue which companies need to address. Have it available but let potential purchaser ask for it. Filtering is a great concept but needs work.

    I recall many years ago, that we would move to virtual stores – but that never really happened. I’d suggest visiting that idea to inspire shoppers. And yes, please start making websites customized rather than cookie-cutter.

    There’s is however a contradiction in the story. How can a majority of consumers feel online shopping is fun and efficient if it’s uninspiring? How are fun and uninspiring the two major confluences? Research with just 33 consumers? Hmmm.

  9. Tim Callan Avatar
    Tim Callan

    Our company provides sales-accelerating, cloud marketing solutions to more than 800 e-commerce sites, and our most popular product is SaaS site search, so we have a pretty good perspective on the impact of good vs. bad search. I can tell you that we routinely see retailers improving overall sales on their sites by 10% or more when they provide an optimized search experience. Very many online retail sites offer poor search results that are 1) badly tuned to the actual desires of shoppers, 2) exclusive of relevant products while inclusive of products that shouldn’t be part of the results set, and 3) presented in a way that is difficult for the shopper to navigate and make sense of. We call it “bad search,” and we see it on web sites every day.

    The good news is that when sites present the right results in the right format, shoppers will respond with higher conversion, more average items per cart, greater ASP, and more frequent return visits. And since we also know that shoppers who use search yield considerably more revenue per visit than those who don’t, it stands to reason that any serious e-commerce venture should look at providing an optimized search experience.

    In short, it’s not surprising that many online shoppers have a negative experience with (and anxiety about) site search. And that’s entirely the fault of those online retailers who aren’t providing their customers with the best experience they conceivably can.

  10. Shaun Ryan Avatar
    Shaun Ryan

    Filters become a lot less important if you have relevant search results. If the results are showing you products you want, then you don’t need to filter. There are some exceptions to this. For search terms that are broad and have a lot of relevant results filters can add a lot of value. If the searcher reorders the results – say by price – then you can get irrelevant results and filters can help here.

    The article is right about the growing importance of product content. We see our retail customers producing more and more content – for lots of reasons. One trend we’ve seen in ecommerce search is that more sites now allow this content to be found via search. This is normally done by showing products first, but having tabs for the other content. You can see an example of this on kid robot where they have tabs for facebook posts, tweets, videos, instragram and blog posts.

  11. James Tenser Avatar
    James Tenser

    It would be easy to pick on statistics generated from small sample research, but precise numbers aside, this study raises a couple of issues that are well worth further consideration.

    “Fear Of Missing Out,” the concern that site search won’t reveal a desired item to the shopper, reflects a common, true experience, I believe. Too many searches return “no items found” messages or deliver options that are wildly wrong. Filters seem to be created by site designers or merchants using a “seems that way to me” methodology. Keywords too.

    A new best practice would take the technicians out of the loop and make search and discovery a more responsive and intuitive experience.

    Online shopping experience is often dull, I think, because meeting the functional challenges necessarily comes first. Attractive site esthetics should overlay that, and gimmicky forms of presentation should be avoided.

  12. Roger Saunders Avatar
    Roger Saunders

    When the “Blonde Bombshell” (my bride of 40 years) goes to the grocery store, she doesn’t always come home and express how excited she was about the experience. Even with kids grown and long gone, she finds her way into a grocery store 2 times per week. On other occasions, she’ll comment, “I couldn’t pass up the peaches at Costco this Spring,” or “Trader Joe’s has the cutest shopping carts that our granddaughter can push around — she loves it,” or….

    The picture is clear. Brick and mortar has to engage the consumer. E-commerce has to perform the same magic. The Prosper Monthly Consumer Survey has been asking respondents once per quarter about their top expectations of a website since 2004. On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), the average scores are Low Prices (4.6), Free Shipping (4.5), Website Easy to Use (4.3), Flexible Return (4.3), and Pick Up or Return at Store (3.8).

    The website needs to call out the basics and reinforce on a consistent basis. And, it has to highlight the opportunity of the moment in order capture the Ah ha! thrill.

  13. Tom Borg Avatar
    Tom Borg

    Everyone likes to feel special. If we can offer customized differentiation down to search filters, it could be helpful in attracting and retaining shoppers.

  14. Ralph Jacobson Avatar
    Ralph Jacobson

    A sample of 33? Let’s talk about the questions posed here by RetailWire, this survey notwithstanding, ok?

    Merchant sites need a comprehensive search tool in order to provide the best shopping experience. Yes, please leave sites that are not responsive to their needs. Basic stuff. The problem is that still far too many CPG and Retail sites of companies of all sizes are lacking effective product search capabilities.

    Beyond search functionality, merchant sites need a more intuitive product selection process. Again, too many sites are built around the most beautiful and slow-to-load graphics that I get impatient just waiting for each page to load. Additionally, if the site tries to be too slick and hip, it irks me.

    Bottom line, keep it simple, easy to click through and navigate and find what the shopper is looking for. Merchants: Have you shopped your own site recently?

  15. Alexander Rink Avatar
    Alexander Rink

    On the first question, hard to say. I don’t generally have an issue with retailer search functionality, but the most useful way to address this question is for each retailer to survey their own customers and ask them. As to the second question, differentiation is always desirable, provided that other, higher order factors are also in place (e.g. reasonable prices, great service, etc.).

  16. Veronika Sonsev Avatar
    Veronika Sonsev

    We’ve found that online shopping is becoming an increasingly social experience. We’re seeing retailers beginning to leverage their social data to give their customers more personalized product recommendations based on what is being shared and talked about.

Share Your Opinion

Are current search tools inhibiting or frustrating online discovery on e-commerce websites? Are we at a point where e-commerce websites have to move away from being “cookie cutter” to offering customized differentiation down to search filters?

Leave a Reply

Is product discovery when shopping easier online or in stores?

View Results

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16 Comments
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Bob Phibbs
Bob Phibbs
9 years ago

I’d be curious to see what stats are on mobile for this as well, or if what I’m reading, its that mobile’s real appeal is geospam, that’s good for IT marketing vs discovery for actual shoppers.

Kevin Graff
Kevin Graff
9 years ago

Online shopping is uninspiring because humans are innately social. There’s nothing truly social about online shopping.

Most would rather go to a mall or store provides the retailer provides a decent shopping experience. That’s the opportunity for stores … pick up your game in-store through better staff performance and environments.

Max Goldberg
Max Goldberg
9 years ago

It’s frustrating to shop at a website and struggle to find what you are looking for. We’ve all had that experience. Retailers need to make it easier for consumers to search their sites, to ascertain the cost of shipping, to find exchange/return policies and to get their questions answered. It’s all about customer service and experience, not about making one site’s graphics different from another’s. That is why Amazon is so successful and so many online retailers are not.

Mohamed Amer
Mohamed Amer
9 years ago

This is a legitimate topic but I struggle with reliability in the results coming out of a sample of 33 consumers.

The whole idea of “discovery” for online shoppers is a transplant of how we believe shoppers had pursued shopping in physical stores as they browse, touch, and choose what to buy. Today’s consumers do a significant amount of their discovery (searches) before they ever get to a specific retailer’s website. The search filters help them get to what they already want to see. Perhaps the results would vary widely across the different retail sub-verticals and specific product categories.

As to differentiated customer experiences on e-commerce websites, it’s a double-edged sword. Brands need to differentiate themselves at all consumer touchpoints inclusive of their online presence, yet consumers expect familiar (intuitive) navigation, search, checkout, etc.

Chris Petersen, PhD
Chris Petersen, PhD
9 years ago

Shopping has always been contextual. When the consumer knows exactly what she wants, search becomes a matter of filters and keywords to find it online. However, if the consumer wants to explore what is possible or do comparisons, that becomes much more difficult online with just a search “tree.”

As Kevin Graff noted, there is a social component to shopping, especially when the consumer is exploring what is possible. It is in the social context of shopping where retail stores should be differentiating. Now if I could just find a retail store person on the floor to talk with.

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken
9 years ago

The website is an extension of the brand. First and foremost, it must be simple and functional. That’s table stakes. From there you can create an experience. There can be interactivity and gamification. For a great example, look at Home Shopping Network and notice their arcade and daily special. People come back day after day for those features. Amazon.com personalizes the experience by reminding the customer what they’ve bought in the past and what they have looked at. That type of personalization connects with their customers at a higher level than any “cookie cutter” website.

Gordon Arnold
Gordon Arnold
9 years ago

Today’s online shopper is deluged with superfluous information which often is designed to distract the user from his or her mission. One of the results of this burdensome site content is the apathy divulged in this discussion. When delivering a company’s message supersedes the customers desire to find pertinent information and complete a task, customer relations can and will spiral downward.

As for search engine content and effectiveness failures, the reason is quite simple. Search engines turn over key word editing to the companies that are signing on to be seen and heard. Most of the editors have very little knowledge and experience or attack the problem with an agenda as a priority in place of customer service. The frustrations are easy to see when a consumer starts searching through a wide variety of e-commerce sites that carry none of the specific products being sought after.

In short, word and phrase relevance is the key to success in this discussion topic and allowing companies to make them ambiguous or even worthless has brought us to where we are in terms of the perceived uselessness of search engines by most users. This same problem is also firmly entrenched in most company sites serving to create additional time delays in the search for products, services and information used to support buying decisions. Such glaring problems will continue for as long as site visits outweigh the value of a successful sale.

Daryle Hier
Daryle Hier
9 years ago

Where to start? This could be a long dissertation but instead, here’s simply what we know and should do.

To the point, search engines on e-commerce sites are poor. Even with Amazon, it’s been discussed that consumers rely on Google searches to find what they’re looking for on Amazon.

Information overload is quite an issue which companies need to address. Have it available but let potential purchaser ask for it. Filtering is a great concept but needs work.

I recall many years ago, that we would move to virtual stores – but that never really happened. I’d suggest visiting that idea to inspire shoppers. And yes, please start making websites customized rather than cookie-cutter.

There’s is however a contradiction in the story. How can a majority of consumers feel online shopping is fun and efficient if it’s uninspiring? How are fun and uninspiring the two major confluences? Research with just 33 consumers? Hmmm.

Tim Callan
Tim Callan
9 years ago

Our company provides sales-accelerating, cloud marketing solutions to more than 800 e-commerce sites, and our most popular product is SaaS site search, so we have a pretty good perspective on the impact of good vs. bad search. I can tell you that we routinely see retailers improving overall sales on their sites by 10% or more when they provide an optimized search experience. Very many online retail sites offer poor search results that are 1) badly tuned to the actual desires of shoppers, 2) exclusive of relevant products while inclusive of products that shouldn’t be part of the results set, and 3) presented in a way that is difficult for the shopper to navigate and make sense of. We call it “bad search,” and we see it on web sites every day.

The good news is that when sites present the right results in the right format, shoppers will respond with higher conversion, more average items per cart, greater ASP, and more frequent return visits. And since we also know that shoppers who use search yield considerably more revenue per visit than those who don’t, it stands to reason that any serious e-commerce venture should look at providing an optimized search experience.

In short, it’s not surprising that many online shoppers have a negative experience with (and anxiety about) site search. And that’s entirely the fault of those online retailers who aren’t providing their customers with the best experience they conceivably can.

Shaun Ryan
Shaun Ryan
9 years ago

Filters become a lot less important if you have relevant search results. If the results are showing you products you want, then you don’t need to filter. There are some exceptions to this. For search terms that are broad and have a lot of relevant results filters can add a lot of value. If the searcher reorders the results – say by price – then you can get irrelevant results and filters can help here.

The article is right about the growing importance of product content. We see our retail customers producing more and more content – for lots of reasons. One trend we’ve seen in ecommerce search is that more sites now allow this content to be found via search. This is normally done by showing products first, but having tabs for the other content. You can see an example of this on kid robot where they have tabs for facebook posts, tweets, videos, instragram and blog posts.

James Tenser
James Tenser
9 years ago

It would be easy to pick on statistics generated from small sample research, but precise numbers aside, this study raises a couple of issues that are well worth further consideration.

“Fear Of Missing Out,” the concern that site search won’t reveal a desired item to the shopper, reflects a common, true experience, I believe. Too many searches return “no items found” messages or deliver options that are wildly wrong. Filters seem to be created by site designers or merchants using a “seems that way to me” methodology. Keywords too.

A new best practice would take the technicians out of the loop and make search and discovery a more responsive and intuitive experience.

Online shopping experience is often dull, I think, because meeting the functional challenges necessarily comes first. Attractive site esthetics should overlay that, and gimmicky forms of presentation should be avoided.

Roger Saunders
Roger Saunders
9 years ago

When the “Blonde Bombshell” (my bride of 40 years) goes to the grocery store, she doesn’t always come home and express how excited she was about the experience. Even with kids grown and long gone, she finds her way into a grocery store 2 times per week. On other occasions, she’ll comment, “I couldn’t pass up the peaches at Costco this Spring,” or “Trader Joe’s has the cutest shopping carts that our granddaughter can push around — she loves it,” or….

The picture is clear. Brick and mortar has to engage the consumer. E-commerce has to perform the same magic. The Prosper Monthly Consumer Survey has been asking respondents once per quarter about their top expectations of a website since 2004. On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), the average scores are Low Prices (4.6), Free Shipping (4.5), Website Easy to Use (4.3), Flexible Return (4.3), and Pick Up or Return at Store (3.8).

The website needs to call out the basics and reinforce on a consistent basis. And, it has to highlight the opportunity of the moment in order capture the Ah ha! thrill.

Tom Borg
Tom Borg
9 years ago

Everyone likes to feel special. If we can offer customized differentiation down to search filters, it could be helpful in attracting and retaining shoppers.

Ralph Jacobson
Ralph Jacobson
9 years ago

A sample of 33? Let’s talk about the questions posed here by RetailWire, this survey notwithstanding, ok?

Merchant sites need a comprehensive search tool in order to provide the best shopping experience. Yes, please leave sites that are not responsive to their needs. Basic stuff. The problem is that still far too many CPG and Retail sites of companies of all sizes are lacking effective product search capabilities.

Beyond search functionality, merchant sites need a more intuitive product selection process. Again, too many sites are built around the most beautiful and slow-to-load graphics that I get impatient just waiting for each page to load. Additionally, if the site tries to be too slick and hip, it irks me.

Bottom line, keep it simple, easy to click through and navigate and find what the shopper is looking for. Merchants: Have you shopped your own site recently?

Alexander Rink
Alexander Rink
9 years ago

On the first question, hard to say. I don’t generally have an issue with retailer search functionality, but the most useful way to address this question is for each retailer to survey their own customers and ask them. As to the second question, differentiation is always desirable, provided that other, higher order factors are also in place (e.g. reasonable prices, great service, etc.).

Veronika Sonsev
Veronika Sonsev
9 years ago

We’ve found that online shopping is becoming an increasingly social experience. We’re seeing retailers beginning to leverage their social data to give their customers more personalized product recommendations based on what is being shared and talked about.