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Technology

Journal-ist: Freedom of Choice

From the journals, studies on why we shop online, how clicks-and-mortar stores can build trust, and how negative reviews can be overcome.

Journal-ist: Freedom of Choice
Gadgets | Illustration by Harry Campbell
Gadgets | Illustration by Harry Campbell

A) Worldwide e-commerce spending is expected to surpass $7 trillion this year. To determine why consumers increasingly prefer virtual storefronts to physical ones, Pui-lai To, writing in Technovation, distributed questionnaires about shopping motivation to 206 Taiwanese students and workers. Obvious answers surfaced, including convenience, cost, and selection. But To also uncovered two other, less-expected factors: a sense of adventure and the satisfaction of using technology effectively. He calls these "hedonistic motivations" and learned that consumers prone to them had a tendency toward "unplanned and hasty" buying online. To capitalize on such motivations, online vendors can design Web sites that stir feelings of technological control and adventure — not so much with jungle motifs, but by promoting ideas of newness.

B) How does an online retailer cultivate trust with a shopper? By looking good, say Yu-Hui Chen and Stuart Barnes in Industrial Management & Data Systems. Chen and Barnes write that concerns about poor security and vendor unreliability are the largest deterrents to Internet shopping — and site design matters more than one might think in overcoming those fears. They found that consumers feel more comfortable making purchases from "impersonal and anonymous" sources if they are easy to navigate and search, and provide "full and detailed information about goods." A highly functional Web site doesn't just help customers find the product they're looking for, but it also makes them feel comfortable about being there in the first place.

C) Online retailers who have gotten negative reviews at sites like the Better Business Bureau's BBBOnline.org shouldn't worry too much — if they really can give their customers a positive experience, says John Fuller in Decision Sciences. Survey data shows that anything an Internet shopper reads about a site can quickly be trumped by personal experience. So "if the e-vendor can get shoppers to their Web site (perhaps through promotional efforts), a positive direct experience for online shoppers can attenuate the effects of a negative review."

A version of this article appeared in the April 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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