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Improving your online store requires many things, but nothing is more important than understanding why people buy.

Online retail psychology, while different from the psychology of instore shopping, is an age old subject with people at the heart. 

Recent research from MIT, Facebook, Google and Target has analysed the core reasons people shun instore and buy with a click.

The seven most popular reasons for conversion are...

  1. Value - 75% said prices were more competitive.
  2. Open - 63% highlighted the ability to shop at any time of the day.
  3. Delivery - free delivery scored high at 59%.
  4. Speed - the element of 'next day' came in at 55%.
  5. Ease - 48% noted online shopping is simply easier.
  6. Range - stock availability at a glance won the hearts of 46%.
  7. Choice - 40% cited the ability to buy new or otherwise unavailable.

Let's look at each of these in more detail 


Cash is king online and consumers respond well to the type of volume trading that a Dell can deliver. Smaller retailers can compete too, though. Ensure your pricing strategy makes savings clear to customers, prepares for competitor underselling and consider a price match guarantee.

If you can't offer the cheapest price, be sure your service delivers way and above your competitor's cheaper option. While value is a top priority for customers, 81% claimed to have paid more in order to receive a better level of service.


It's 17:30, the bookstore closes in 30 minutes and is 35 minutes away. I want a copy of that latest bestseller for tomorrow evening.

Any online store that can promise to deliver the item I want, at a good price, by tomorrow is obviously going to get my business.

Later last order times and more focused delivery slots are becoming the norm (you can buy from Amazon up to 1800 for same day delivery in some locations) and every retailer has to keep up.

According to Econusltancy's Christmas 2012 Online Shopping Survey, a signigicant minority of consumers are willing to pay a premium for speedier and more convenient delivery options.

4% did pay extra for such services this Christmas, while 26% said they would pay more for one hour or same day delivery. 

Q: Would you have paid extra to have an item delivered on the same day, or during a specific one-hour window? (1,000 UK respondents)

Streamlined order processes, one click ordering, stored payment details, smart address books and relevant recommendations will give you a head start.


Free, fast and reliable delivery is crucial to success for any online retailer. Online shoppers don't want to pay for your cost of doing business (56% will actively look elsewhere for free delivery, even if it makes the product cost slightly higher) and nobody wants to wait longer than they have to either.

Even small retailers can manage free postage by encouraging bundle purchases, working with couriers to manage split logistics and being clever when it comes to 'at-basket' recommendations to entice a customer over the threshold at which it makes margin sense for you to throw in free delivery.


Time is money. For your business, but also your customer. Online shopping came with many promises and none were bigger than the "what you want, when you want it" one.

Your site can work hard to remember, personalise, serve and communicate as quickly as possible. Small details like always knowing your customers preferred card, delivery address or delivery options all count.

Bigger things like providing online tools to help purchase decisions, gift lists, favourites and hassle free returns (something ASOS does very well) shows your customer you care and value their time. 


Easiness is one of the things most within your control as an ecommerce operator. Make it easy for people to find your products, compare those items, analyse features, interrogate details (size, colour, dimensions, weight, options etc) and understand how to get the best out of what they're about to buy (recipes, reviews, usage suggestions, connecting previous customers etc).

Provide customer service options that don't frustrate customers… Customer service shouldn't be a 0900-1700 thing - that's what happens offline and we're meant to be delivering something bigger here.

Payment should be easy, returns should be accepted, loyalty should be rewarded.


Online retailers have a huge advantage when it comes to range. Try stocking 30,000 line items in a bricks and mortar store. If you don't drown in rent payments, the battle between logistics and stock control will kill you.

Your customer hates traipsing across the city to a store that no longer has the one item she phoned ahead to ensure was in stock. This is where online stores fly ahead of offline - well run real time inventories with smart delivery schedules help customers feel in control.

You're simply a portal to their product after all. 


Borderless retail is the most exciting thing, culturally, to have resulted from the emergence of ecommerce. No longer bound by what's locally available, customers can choose products from all round the world, via your store.

Optimise your site to showcase your product lines, emphasise the collection status and demonstrate 'hard to find' products. Exclusivity, rarity, 'the impossible' and 'the unusual' will always attract a premium - in terms of both price and brand appraisal.

Craig Le Grice

Published 29 January, 2013 by Craig Le Grice

Craig Le Grice is Global Technology Performance Director at Aegis Media and a contributor to Econsultancy.

4 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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You mention "recent research from MIT, Facebook, Google, and Target." Can you share links to the sources for this research?

over 4 years ago

Craig Le Grice

Craig Le Grice, Global Technology Performance Director at Aegis Media

Thanks Casey. As soon as I have links to redacted content, I'll post them here in the comments section. The MIT / Facebook data is part of the same combined study and the Target data is client-owned and commercially sensitive so I'm awaiting a redacted version.

over 4 years ago



Who is the MIT research lead for the MIT/Facebook research? I work at MOT and have not heard about this.

over 4 years ago


Dirkjan Vis

Since you mention Asos, or borderless retail I assume the research is done worldwide? Although, even in Europe, borders still seem to exist, don't they?

over 4 years ago

Craig Le Grice

Craig Le Grice, Global Technology Performance Director at Aegis Media

Thanks Matt. It originated in a media group working as part of MIT Media Lab. If you'd like to discuss sources or content of this post in more detail please contact me via my website (http://craiglegrice.com). I'll share what I can.

over 4 years ago

Craig Le Grice

Craig Le Grice, Global Technology Performance Director at Aegis Media

Thanks Dirkjan. Borderless retail is a wide area but contexts include my being able to purchase a product from Amazon in one country that originates in another without a full 'export' purchase. To be clear, ASOS was mentioned specifically around hassle free returns. (Although it's very much a global operator now).

over 4 years ago



Craig, it is a global study?

over 4 years ago

Craig Le Grice

Craig Le Grice, Global Technology Performance Director at Aegis Media

Thanks Patricia. It's not a single study. I've cited several pieces of foundation research above. I've then detailed the seven areas with comment and observations of my own.

over 4 years ago

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