shopping basket against black background

Ecommerce and the Psychology of Shopping

Ever perused the options in the checkout lane of a grocery store and grabbed one of your favorite snacks? You’ve been the target of a point of purchase (POP) display. These displays are a popular way of leveraging psychological research into how shoppers behave. They are the product of identifying emotional triggers that will lead to purchase, targeting a particular audience. That’s why there are so many items that appeal to children in POP displays.

While there have been decades of research into POP displays and marketing, today’s eCommerce professionals are up against a new challenge. How do we shift in-store models into the world of online marketing?

We know much less about how people shop online, but there is a growing body of research that can guide marketing teams. These layout and presentation structures can help push shoppers to make that extra purchase, even in a digital environment.

Make Checkout Worth More

As noted above, the checkout line is a key conversion point in physical shopping environments. It’s a place where, in their relief to be nearly done with an errand, shoppers will choose to treat themselves. They may purchase a snack or the magazine they were perusing while waiting in line. Online, though, checkout is primarily associated with frustration. One-third of customers dislike having to register before checking out. About 10% consider the length of check-out processes to be off-putting.  


Designers and salespeople can take a number of steps to improve the checkout experience, particularly by making it simpler or shorter. However, you may take advantage of many ways to make the checkout process more valuable. Many companies suggest supplementary products during the checkout process, such as a wallet that matches a bag or batteries for a toy. Other stores use checkout to create a sense of urgency or scarcity by offering low inventory numbers on popular and sale items. Shoppers are more likely to make a purchase if they think the product is running out or that a sale is about to end.

The Advantages Of Imitation

Considering its rate of growth, most people are fairly comfortable shopping online. But there’s still a significant gap between our comfort with eCommerce and how shoppers feel when they step into their local grocery store. It’s definitely more challenging to shop online. Ecommerce sites are structured differently from one store to another. Many eCommerce businesses find that they benefit from mimicking some of the typical elements of a store. Elements such as product displays or even fitting rooms.

For example, Portland Leather Goods’ eCommerce site features a number of different product presentations. Among the most valuable are clear images of models with the items, offering a sense of scale. It’s a common problem with eCommerce – we make purchases unsure of how big that bag or wallet is or how that phone will fit in our hands. Similarly, images of multiple versions of a product posed side-by-side help shoppers choose among their options.

Augmented reality promises to further enhance eCommerce experiences. It is believed that augmented reality will better mimic traditional shopping experiences. Shoppers can already use AR programs to see how furniture might fit into their homes. Some AR platforms allow consumers to test shapes and colors to determine how items fit in with their aesthetic. Similarly, websites like Zenni offer virtual try-on as part of the shopping process. This imitates a sensitive part of the purchasing loop – the ability to experience the product before deciding to buy. That’s a powerful offer and one that can significantly increase sales in key industries.

Reducing Barriers to Ecommerce

Ultimately, all sales environments aim to reduce barriers to purchase. Removing such barriers has been a real challenge for eCommerce. The good news is that as more businesses shift to subscription models and embrace additional payment integrations, those barriers are falling away. Fewer barriers lead to more sales and more sales lead to more money for innovation. Ecommerce has reached a critical point in its evolution and the simpler and more appealing companies can make it, the more profitable it will be.