an image of a woman reading a bookHave you visited your local bookstore lately? They have got rid of several shelves of books and replaced them with nice comfy sofas. There’s also the chance to grab a coffee and simply relax. And it’s not just coffee shops getting in on the act. Even your local car showroom now has plenty of comfy chairs, a children’s toy corner and non-stop coffee on tap. Shops appear to be converting themselves into your lounge. And there is good reason for it.

When we feel “at home” we are more relaxed and we tend to buy more. There’s also another reason for shops to offer us coffee – it makes us more open to persuasion.

However, new research has added a twist to the sofas in bookshops trend. Researchers from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, has shown that familiar things in our surroundings makes us more likely to spend. Put a few sofas in your shop, make people feel more at home and they tend to reach in to their wallets a little deeper.

Not only does this happen, but stores which have a “homey” feel also gain greater loyalty and a stronger attachment to their customers. In other words, the more real-world stores make their shops like home, the more they weill benefit.

But what does this mean for online store design? It suggests that the more that web designers produce template style shops, the less we will be attached to them. Indeed, perhaps one of the reasons why there is so much comparison shopping online and a lot less loyalty than in the real world is because most online shops look the same.

Recently I wrote a review of several online stores all in the same sector. I checked the top 10 shops, according to traffic and custom. Frankly, as I switched from window to window to compare the shops I found it hard to remember which was which; they all looked the same. Almost every shop we look at online these days is “commercial” without any individual “homeliness”.

One area which is doing well online is the niche blogger. They are selling extraordinary amounts of “stuff” via their individualised and personal websites. Rather than seeming commercial, per se, these “stores” are much more “friendly” and make you feel “at home”. Perhaps they are signalling the way for major stores to improve their online offering. Instead of being massive shops, perhaps they should be much more individualised and make us feel at home more.

Ultimately, it’s all down to making your customers feel relaxed. If your online store is complex to use, difficult to navigate and doesn’t have effective search, then you are likely to reduce the relaxed feeling amongst your customers and thereby make them less likely to purchases.

What this research really tells online businesses is that they need to pay much greater attention to detail, to ensure their customers feel relaxed when using their site.


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