What bricks and mortar can teach ecommerce

A very nice man came round to our house one night this week and interviewed Mrs H about her shopping habits online.

This was part of some research that a cross-supermarket industry body is conducting into home shopping. He wanted to find out as much about her online shopping habits as possible.

The questions were fascinating – all centred around habits which can’t be tracked online. “How many supermarkets do you shop with?” “Have tried using Tesco Click and Collect?” “Have you tried the new Sainsbury iPhone App?” He asked her if she recognised a QR code (no, not the specific code… it was whether she knew it was a QR code, and yes, she did).

The man even wanted to see where in the house the computer she does her online ordering from is located. He noted that we had wireless in the house and asked if her iPhone used the WiFi network. He showed photos of Tesco in Korea who are using QR codes in a subway station to let customer order food while waiting for a train – shown in the video above.

The interview got me thinking about what I could do to improve a website if I was a supermarket chain. And it didn’t strike me until I went to buy some ground coffee from the local supermarket one morning.

I went in to buy the coffee and looked at the shelf. Do I want Tesco brand or a non-Tesco brand? Fair trade or not? Strength 1,2, 3, 4 or 5? There’s a special on that one over there. The one next to it has more coffee and works out cheaper though.

And that’s what you can’t do online. Most people shopping online, especially for groceries, know specifically what they want to buy. But people who go into shops can buy additional items on impulse. Something catches their eye and ends up in the basket or trolley.

It happens with items other than groceries as well. A customer goes into a mens clothes shop for a shirt. And they see another shirt or cufflinks or a tie and maybe end up buying all three.

This isn’t a case of “related products” or “suggested products” – it’s impulse buying. I don’t think I’ve bought many things on impulse from Amazon, and Mrs H claims it never happens when buying groceries online. However when we go shopping in a “real world” supermarket, we’ll always buy at least one thing we didn’t set out for.

To make this happen, screen design needs to radically change from a single product per page, to a shelf-style, where a customer can see a variety. Most ecommerce sites aren’t designed or built to show variety (with the exception of colours or sizes). It’s the opposite to real world shops where you never see a single product style on a shelf.

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