Why Shoppers Spend Less Money Online Than They Do In-Store

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Why Shoppers Spend Less Money Online Than They Do In-Store

Online shopping image of a basket over a keyboard With most supermarkets now offering an online delivery option, many retailers are finding that more customers are doing a high proportion of their grocery shopping online.

But although this may be a convenient change for customers, this is causing problems for supermarkets. Customers are embracing the convenience of shopping for groceries online but, because of these changes, their shopping behaviour has altered. In a nutshell, they are spending less.


Online Shopping Lacks Experiential Appeal

Unlike in-store, online shopping offers no chance to engage with the products before buying them. Their only experience of the product is as a small, low-quality graphic on the supermarket’s website. This means that the product is not being experienced by the shopper’s other senses.

Customers don’t have the chance to pick up the product, feel its weight, smell it and look at it from all angles. Supermarket websites may offer the ability to examine all sides of the packaging online, but most shoppers won’t bother. Online grocery shopping is mostly grab-and-go, so shoppers act automatically. They are unengaged in the process.

Because of the lack of physical engagement with the product, shoppers are less driven to make purchases. They won’t see that the cherries are looking particularly tempting today or smell the aroma of a new coffee brand.

This isn’t a problem for many non-supermarkets: how many of us buy DVDs online rather than travelling to a store? But this presents a major issue to supermarkets, for whom experiential products can increase shopper spend.

There Is a Higher Level of Temptation In-Store

Most impulse purchases happen because of products that shoppers see in-store. They pass a display gondola, see products at sale prices and buy them — often these decisions are made unconsciously. Online shopping removes this temptation. Shoppers don’t open a category window and browse, they search for specific products — and most of what they buy will be products they have bought before.

This is the reverse for other online shops — eBay, for example, is a major benefactory of impulse buying because of its constant availability and wide range of products. Many people now think of something they want and immediately buy it on eBay because of the convenience.

There Is a Far Lower Level of Product Consideration Online

While shoppers might spend time reading up on big-ticket purchases such as laptops, there is a much lower level of consideration when it comes to online shopping. For shoppers without specific needs (vegans, food allergies and sensitivities), there is little comparison between items on the shelf.

As the price-sorting function on the site allow shoppers to find the cheapest version of products quickly, rather than considering the comparative qualities of what is on offer, they will often go with cheaper own-brand products.

Customers Are Always Reminded of Their Running Total Online

When shoppers are in-store, the only time they know how much they have spent is at the checkout. This is mimicked by many online stores such as Amazon and eBay — the shopper can see that they have products in their basket but cannot see the total until they examine the basket.

On supermarket websites, shoppers are provided with a running total of their purchases and removing items is easy. When they can see a running total, many shoppers are distracted from their purchases, going into their basket and removing items. They can even save their shopping basket and come back for it at a later time, meaning that products they aren’t sure about can be removed after consideration.

Online Shopping Gives Consumers a Way to Repeat Purchase Favourite Items — and Not Much Else

Due to the introduction of online shopping, the temptation to make extra purchases is all but gone. In this budget-conscious society, it is far easier to keep track of spending whilst online shopping. This has destroyed the impulse to buy extra items.

Without making changes to the way that shopping online works, supermarkets stand to lose out. With online stores such as Amazon now offering grocery delivery, they should be considering their place in the market and how to improve their sales.

Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing Director of the research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd, a shopping research organisation that uses psychological insight to explain and predict how consumers will behave. SBXL operates in seventeen countries for hundreds of clients including Mars, Tesco, and B&Q.