So your friend shows you this book he can’t stop raving about. After giving it the old dust-cover/random-flip-through examination, you pretty much decide to buy it.
Now, when you arrive at amazon.com, my question is: are you at all interested in the book recommendations that Amazon has for you?
Absolutely not, right? Or at least not yet.
You came to buy a specific book. You’ve already got a task in mind and browsing random books aint it. You’ll likely blow past any and all call-outs, recommendations, and other assorted distractions until you’ve found the book you came to buy.
And if Amazon ends up not having the book in stock, you’ll go elsewhere.
But AFTER you’ve found the book you wanted, recommendations are welcomed. At that point you’ll actually pay attention to other books Amazon recommends and bundles with your searched-for book. You’ll even look at what other Amazon shoppers eventually bought after viewing your friend’s book.
This Amazon thought experiment exemplifies the task-orientation common to most online visitors.
Visitors arrive at your site with a goal in mind. They already have a task, and your website either helps them accomplish that task or it gets dumped. And that goes for every page on your site – either it contains the content the visitor wants, or it provides a link to it, or the visitor leaves.
But what about people just wanting to browse?
This is a question posed to me in a recent comment. As the commenter put it:
“… when I’m browsing through Amazon – with no other goal than to pass the time – I get converted to buy stuff all the time.
‘People who bought x also bought Y’ And if the book or cd Y is something I’ve been interested in – it triggers a purchase.”
His point was that browsing is a task-less online activity that eliminates the importance of scent.
And it’s an interesting question/thought. To answer it, I’ll first have to distinguish between early stage shopping and true browsing.
In the early stage of the buying process, the visitor is aware of an itch he’d like to scratch, but isn’t quite sure exactly what purchase will best scratch that itch. Let’s say our shopper is vaguely aware of wanting to get in shape, and is kind of wanting to do Yoga. But he’s not sure if he wants to do Yoga in a dedicated studio, or take classes in a more general, multi-purpose gym, or just buy some tapes for home workouts.
This Yoga shopper is still task oriented – it’s just that the task is researching rather than buying. And a home-workout themed website or Yoga Studio website that helped her do the research stands a far better chance of getting her business than a Website exclusively focused on late stage buyers.
This is one reason we highly recommend catering to early stage buyers and developing a content strategy for them. And for more info on how to do that effectively, check out David Young’s excellent video series: Hunting for Early Bird Persuasion
Browsing is different. Browsing means the shopper isn’t even clearly aware of a product desire yet. They’re not even focused on research. If asked, the shopper couldn’t even describe the itch they’re looking to scratch. And yet, they could buy if presented with the right product.
Despite appearances, browsing isn’t task-free. Even though a specific object hasn’t (yet) catalyzed their free-floating desire, browsing visitors are still driven by desire.
Browsers are seeking novelty and possibility: the possibility of finding something different and better than they’d have imagined. Browsers are as goal-oriented as any other shopper – just with different goals.
And as is true with every goal-oriented shopper, any website that fails to deliver on those goals gets dumped. In fact, most shoppers only browse on sites that have already proved themselves capable of delivering novel products.
People browse Amazon.com not because it presents them with recommendations on the home page, but because Amazon masterfully presents them with interesting possibilities of new books that are similar to and possibly even remarkably better than books we’re already impressed with. This is why the commenter I quoted from recalled the ‘People who bought x also bought Y’ quote rather than a “view Amazon recommendations” quote.
So how does a site plan to deliver on this search for novelty and cooler-than-expected items?
Apart from bargain-priced rotating-inventory sites like bluefly, overstock.com or woot.com, the top three e-tailers most noted for browsing-friendly design are:
Here’s what they have in common:
They sell “impulse-buy-friendly” and “most-people-own-a-bunch” items. Think about it: books, music, and shoes are all things we buy a lot of AND things we buy on impulse. So each of these sites have a lot of repeat visits/visitors AND a fair chance at luring visitors into impulse buys.
They make it easy to sample the items in stock. iTunes lets you actually listen to the song. Amazon lets you read the dust cover, table of contents, and a few passages from the book. Most reviews also give you a flavor of the book. Zappos gives you the best product photography to be found and provides expedited shipping both ways, which is a way to eliminate the pain and friction of customers trying on and “sampling” the shoes.
They routinely get new items in stock and make it a point to stock huge inventories. If browsers want novelty, it helps to be able to provide it, both with new stuff and with stuff I’ve never heard of before. Amazon.com has all sorts of weird titles I’d never find at my local Barnes & Noble or even imagine existed. Same thing with iTunes and Zappos. Browsing shoppers know that novelty is only a click away.
They have solid user reviews set-up. Amazon and Zappos make up for limited sampling through user reviews, making it no coincidence that they have the best and most solidly established review communities on the Web. iTunes lags behind the others when it comes to reviews, but makes up for by better sampling, lower average price point, and better than average recommendations.
They make it easy to sort by regular categories AND by loose associations. Amazon let’s me see cool webs of connections between books, and look at user generated lists. Zappos provides great filtered navigation options, so that I can not only sort by black men’s dress shoes, but also by black cap-toe lace up oxfords that cost between $100 and $150. And many of the revues compare shoes, even to the point of recommending alternatives. iTunes allows users to sort music by genre, decade, and browse with the aid of since-you-bought-that-you’ll-like-this recommendations. For even better filtered, or faceted, sorting, check out this Get Elastic article as well as their thoughts on using user filtering and sorting preferences to personalize visitors shopping experience.
They’ve eliminated or greatly reduced buying friction. I can buy shoes on Zappos and get them next day or by 2nd day for free shipping. With Amazon prime, I get 1-Click buying, and free 2nd-day shipping. iTunes allows me to enjoy my music within seconds of buying. And I know I’ll never have a problem with billing or customer service with these e-tailers. There’s simply no friction to buying and a good bit of near-instant gratification – important factors for inspiring impulse buys.