sealPurdue News

December 2000

Shopping online: What does the customer want?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Many consumers are wary and distrustful of online retailers, and these feelings prevent online retailing from becoming even bigger than it already is, according to a Purdue University e-retail researcher.

"Fifty to 75 percent of consumers do not complete online purchases of items they want because of poorly designed Web sites," says Richard A. Feinberg, professor of consumer sciences and retailing. "The most frequent button clicked on e-retail sites is the back button, which is an expression of people's frustration with poor site design and frustration with the e-shopping experiences.

"If e-retailers are to succeed, they are going to have to create trust and exceed customers' expectations better than they have in the past."

The crux of the matter, according to Feinberg, is that negative experiences at an e-retail site make it less likely that the consumer will return to that specific site or to other sites.

The top customer gripes about online shopping, according to customer surveys, are:

– Slow Web sites: 48 percent;
– Products unavailable: 31 percent;
– Late deliveries: 30 percent;
– Inability to track order status: 25 percent;
– Web site outage: 22 percent.

Feinberg, who teaches a class on e-retailing, also is a researcher at the Purdue Retail Institute, which releases an annual retail holiday spending forecast. The 2000 report focuses heavily on e-retailing.

There are two types of online shoppers who require different buying experiences, Feinberg says. "Three-click shoppers are those who know what they want to buy and want to have the transaction be as quick and simple as possible.

"The second type of online consumers are those who are uncertain about what they want to purchase and need an enriched shopping experience," Feinberg says. "For these customers, the e-retailer should have a range, but not an overwhelming choice, of items and offer an easy method of ordering and payment."

Other findings were:

– Consumers should be able to find and purchase an item in three computer mouse clicks.

– The top three Web site features online shoppers want are good site search tools, express ordering and featured specials. "Consumers can even be convinced to buy from online retailers they haven't considered when offered first-time buyer discounts, online coupons, free shipping and easy return of items," Feinberg says.

– Consumers want to be assured of on-time order fulfillment.

– A customer should only have to provide address and credit card information once, even if he or she is sending items, such as gifts, to different destinations.

– E-retailers should use e-mail to keep customers informed of order status. "Better yet, e-retailers should build order tracing into their Web sites so consumers can track their own orders," Feinberg says.

For traditional brick-and-mortar stores that have added retail Web sites, there is another important, customer-friendly consideration. "Consumers expect that items purchased on a Web site can be exchanged at any of a chain's stores," Feinberg says. However, that's often not the case.

"Many traditional retailers have created separate businesses with systems that don't talk to each other. Not integrating the mall outlet to its online counterpart means that stores aren't seeing the big retail picture of the future from the customers' point of view – the ability to buy merchandise anywhere, anytime and anyhow they want."

Feinberg says there are a number of future issues for both e-retailers and "brick-and-click" chain operations that won't be put to bed with the new year.

"Consumers who are deciding to order an item online want instant callback or Web chat," Feinberg says. "Web chat enables a consumer to interact with a live agent while shopping online by phone or on the computer screen. This feature is starting to show up on some e-retail sites."

Free shipping and shipping upgrades will increasingly be built into the price of merchandise, Feinberg says. Also, he says brick-and-click retailers need to fully integrate their storefront and online operations.

"We are just at the start of the e-retail revolution. E-retailing is inevitable. People who do not have access today will have access tomorrow. People who browse today will buy tomorrow. People who buy today will buy twice tomorrow."

A copy of the holiday sales forecast report is available by contacting Feinberg at the Department of Consumer and Family Sciences, Matthews Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907. Phone: (765) 494-8301; e-mail:

Source: Richard Feinberg, (765) 494-8301, e-mail:

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Journalists: This is the second of two releases on the holiday sales forecast report. The first release is available online or by contacting Mike Lillich, University News Service, 1132 Engineering Administration Building, Room 324, West Lafayette, IN 47907. Phone: (765) 494-2077; e-mail:

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