Online shops need different approach

Shoppers are never the same; anyone involved in retail knows that everyone is different. What appeals to one person, does not attract another. What some people see as a bargain, others find too expensive. What some people buy every week, others only get occasionally. It never ceases to amaze shop owners how different their customers can be.

Online retail takes wrong approach

  • Online shop categories could put off shoppers
  • Haphazard displays may sell more to some buyers
  • Need to provide two kinds of online shops to target different buyer groups

Traditional, High Street, retailers try to appeal to a particular “class” of shopper; the person who loves shopping at a giant, like Tesco, is probably not that happy with going to separate shops like a butcher, a greengrocer and a baker. But the person who loves their local butcher’s shop, probably never even ventures down the meat aisle in Sainsbury. Traditional retailers know they can’t appeal to everyone, so they plump for a sector or “market segment”.

Online, though, things are different. You don’t see online shops attempting to segment themselves in such obvious ways. In fact, most online retailing looks and feels the same. There’s an array of products, perhaps separated by category, an add to shopping cart button and then a checkout. However, new research from the University of South Carolina suggests that online retailers could be taking the wrong approach in doing this.

Getting more people to buy online could mean you need a different approach

Getting more people to buy online could mean you need a different approach

The study found that our shopping requirements are based around our level of “expertise” on a subject. So, for instance, someone who has good levels of knowledge about fresh fruit and vegetables is much happier to buy from a haphazard farmers market than the category-style display in a supermarket. The more you know about a subject, it seems, the less you want the shop to be in categories – and the more you want to be surprised by things.

Most online shops are geared, it seems, towards the uninitiated – the novice. Everything is in categories, grouped logically and presented in an obvious order. However, this new study suggests this could actually put off a considerable number of your potential purchasers – those who know and understand your subject area.

It’s more evidence of the need to split what you provide online. Even if you have a niche website, it may well be that you need to divide the shop you provide into two – one presented for novices and one for your expert shoppers. Doing so could well provide increased sales from an online store. Categories may well help navigation, but they may put off the shoppers who know your subject area (and may therefore be more likely to spend anyway). Online retail needs a different approach.


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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