How we discover products or stores

Google / other search engine
Google is often the place that people start searching for products they want to purchase online. With the advent of Product Listing Ads e-commerce has become very important for Google, online retailers as well as consumers. Google relies on ecommerce for much of its Pay Per Click Advertising revenue, retailers for much of their web traffic and customers for the best place to find great prices and selection.

side note: more and more people are now starting their searches on amazon. This has a potential of really hurting both google and smaller retailers.

Many people are now moving away from Google as the starting point for their online purchases. Amazon can be the perfect place to start your search. It has good prices, selection familiar interface, your credit card and shipping information, product recommendations and more. Even if the price is not the best for some products it is just easier to shop on amazon and not worry about starting a new account at a different retailer just to save a dollar or two.

Social Media
People are both discovering and now purchasing in social media. These can be a perfect platform for some types of products. Sharing products on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest is popular right now and will only get more important for online shopping as they continue to integrate the ability to purchase the item right into the platform. Social media platforms can be perfect for finding trends or products from people you trust such as friends, celebrities or experts. That said, people are not going to social media to shop and may not be in the mindset for buying the way they are when search google or visiting Amazon.

TV / Real-World
The ability to buy a product online when you see or discover it in the real world or on a video is a changing the way we discover products and how we shop. Amazon lets you scan an actual product and if they can recognize it you can purchase it right then and their. This can be done by using your phone to scan the barcode, the box or sometimes even the product itself. This is about discovery and convenience and could be a great new way to buy the products you see in everyday life with less effort. Some stores have been experimenting with letting people purchase products that are featured in a video, TV show or movie. This is relatively new and will continue to change as the technology, customer expectations and infrastructure evolves.

Side note –  i recently scanned a bottle of organic protein powder and within 3 minutes of scanning it i was able to order it on amazon. A search for organic protein powder would have brought up a lot of other results but a scan of the bottle easily found the product and brought me right to the Amazon product detail page.

Side note – Google recently added a barcode scanner to chrome that takes you to the search results and shopping results for that product.

New types of stores

ECommerce has allows new types of stores to exist. Here are a few new types of stores and sellers that have sprung up with many more to come.

Niche stores
Niche stores that could not survive in any one geographic market may now be successful. No one city has enough interest in a store selling just emergency eyewash stations but now we can have entire on-line stores dedicated to this product line. The store gives users around the world access to a leading expert in the field and a selections and product information no one city can match.  No one geographical market can satisfy many of the niche stores that now can exist on-line. e-commerce stores have a national or global reach and just a few customers per geographic area would not be enough for a brick and mortar but are plenty for a store that has a larger reach. 

Really large on-line stores (amazon)
On-line stores with one website can serve one customer or one million customers. The traditional limitations of a brick and mortar store with limited stock and store space are in contrast to a web site that can have virtually unlimited traffic with little change to the shopping experience. We still have chains and big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy but they need individual stores and have limited store space, location limitations and only so many cashiers. These new large online stores can provide the selection, price and convenience most people need and can scale in ways that traditional retail can not.

Really small stores – low barrier to entry 
We now live in a time where just about anyone can set up a store. We do not need the advanced programing that we did in 1999 or the capital to rent a store front and purchase products to sell that many .

We no longer need to have the capital to purchase or rent a storefront and buy products to sell. Even in the relatively recent on-line world we no longer need the capital to hire a programmer, buy products or pay for employees the way we did in 1999. Services such as Volusion or shopify let you set up a store for $20 a month and give you templates so you need very little experience to get a store on-line. Other services let you add online stores to your current site with the additions of a little bit of code. PayPal allows anyone add the ability to pay on their own site by doing the transaction on the PayPal site with a simple link from your current web page.

Small sellers in marketplaces (eBay) 
Small stores are one thing but now individuals can sell online without having their own shop. eBay lets people list products they have for sale and Craigslist lets people post any item they have free of charge. What makes these even easier is that you do not need to be a business or have any special training at all. Just post the product. EBay takes a commission and allows credit cards while craigslist does not. These marketplaces have a low barrier of entry and eliminate much of the need to market your product because of the built-in audience they have earned.

Why NOT shop online

Many of the obstacles invoved in shopping on-line will change over time as the technology and norms change but here are a few of the reasons people say they choose NOT to shop online.

This has clearly been something that has changed over time but is still an issue for some people. The idea of getting your credit card stolen after putting the information on-line is a serious concern for some. Even if users trust the store or the people at the store that have access to the credit card information some individuals worry about typing the info on the computer and not knowing who has access to this data. The fear of hackers, malware, viruses and other security concerns can be enough for some people to forgo shopping on-line entirely. This may or may not be a legitimate concern in all cases but it is something that is a real issue in the mind of some shoppers.

SIDE NOTE – In some areas of the world people would shop online only if it was COD (colect on delivery) becasue they do not trust that products will get to them.

Do not know and trust the store / things can go wrong
People may not have the same trust of an on-line store when they do not have intimate connections with it the way they do with a local brick and mortar or a larger brand retailer. They may trust because they trust REI the brick and mortar store. The same individual may not trust an unknown sporting good store on-line the same way, even if they have not shopped at or the smaller on-line store. The brand experience or perception can translate from the traditional store to the e-commerce store.

We have more chances for things to go wrong when shopping on-line.
Will it get delivered?
Will the item have a defect?
If not, can I return it?
What if they send me the wrong color or size?
Do I have to pay return shipping?
Do I need to go to the post office and stand in line?
Do I have a restocking fee?

“I could have just gone to a local store but now I have to deal with this hassle.”

Many larger online stores that have a brick and mortar presence do not have to deal with all of these worries as the shopper has experience with them or know they have a brand and reputations to withhold and a physical place to go and fix any problems.

Need the product soon
If you need the product today you may not choose to shop on-line. Some products you want or need right now. You may need the product right away, say for a birthday party later that day, or just want the instant gratification the product gives. Either way, this can be a reason to shop at a close physical store.

Side Note –
This is clearly something amazon is taking into consideration when they are aiming for 1 or 2 hour delivery in some areas with select products. They realize that not all, but some products are needed right away and the 1 or 2 day delivery will not cut it for these situations.

Do not like getting deliveries
For some people getting deliveries can be pain. A box sitting on your front porch does not work in all neighborhoods or for all products. If you have a valuable product sitting on your front steps the anxiety about them getting stolen is too much for many people. Other individuals have to go to the front desk of their apartment complex or must be home to sign for a package.

Cannot see or try on the product in person
Seeing what you are getting in person can make a huge difference for many items people want. Does the clothing fit, is this the right color, what is the fabric like. Is this chair comfortable to sit in, what conditions is this used jacket really in? This will depend on the person and the type of item. If you work at an on-line store that sells these types of products it can be challenging to answer all of these concerns people have.

Every reason that people do not currently buy on-line is an opportunity for innovative stores to fix or eliminate the roadblocks and create new and better shopping experiences. 

Why shop online?

Every person has a diffrent reasons for buying products online but these are some of the popular ones. The main point I want to get across is that diffrent products, diffrent people and diffrent situations all impact what is important in a specific reatail experiance and it is important to understand what your target audience cares about for each product category or use case.

1. Type of Product
2. Use Case
3. Individual shopper


Price will always be an important factor when shopping for almost any product or services. It is much easier to discover the store with lowest price when on-line shopping. If you have to physically visit 10 stores in your area you will often forgo this, as it is to time-consuming to do, especially for a low price item. A visit to Google Shopping, Amazon or a quick Bing search can give you dozens or hundreds of stores selling your desired product while you easily sort by price. This also allows you to search and shop stores all over the country or world opening up price options you would not have had even if you did to choose to visit all of the relevant stores in your city.

Selection is clearly another top reason people choose to shop on-line. This can have to do with a specific store that has thousands of products or the entire e-commerce ecosystem with 100’s of millions. No one brick and mortar store can have close to the selection of an e-commerce website.

To add an additional SKU to a brick and mortar means a larger store, a more cluttered space or eliminating a current SKU. On a website it is as simple as adding another item.

If you skip the individual store you can start your search on Google and instantly browse the entire web or start on a marketplace such as Amazon or eBay and search many trusted and vetted sellers.

When shopping online you have an ubbundance of SKUs for customers to choose from without the limitations of a traditional brick and mortar shopping experience.

Many people would rather do a few clicks sitting on the coach than drive around town from shop to shop. It is not always more convenient but for some people, some of the time it is convenience that can make the difference. Of course what is convenient depends on the person, the product and the use case. Many e-commerce companies work hard to make the purchasing of products as easy as possible for their target audience.

Amazon is doing a great job with making it so easy to shop.
1. Scan a barcode and find it on amazon – one click after that.
2. Scan the product (take a picture) and find it on amazon – one click after that.
3. Pysical Dash button – one click.
4. Virtual Dash button – one click
5. Order by voice
6. Amazon Go / no checkout line / no cash
7. Easy to see what you recentely ordered – one click after that.
other ideas:
1. Text your your order: send me sku 12345, or send me my last order. – a link to the price and a response of YES is all it needs to be sent
2. Text “resend last order” or “send 2 boxes of the same toilet paper from the last order”


We may be able to get the information we want on-line easier than we can in the store. Again, this depends on the type of product, the use case and the individual shopper. In some cases we can not get all the info on-line.  We need to see or touch the item to know if it is for us. That said, we often can get more info including reviews, spec sheets and videos about the product right from the website or app and be able to make a better product decisions than just going to the store.

online informations it may be hard to get in store:
– Video of the product in use
– Reviews or testimonials
– Specifcation sheet data
– Information about the company

A business of nuance and change

The main points I want to get across in looking at e-commerce theory is that it, like any kind of retail, it is a business of nuance and change.

1. The type of online retail experience that is perfect for one shopper; product or situation will not always work for another.

Each selling situation has different:
– types of products
– types of customers
– situations the customers are in.

2. As new technology and norms come into existence we have a chance to change how some people with some products in some circumstances choose to shop. It is important to understand these nuances as we work to make better shopping experiences for these individual niches.

Next day shipping is important in some situations and not others. Some individuals only care about price and others about convenience. Some products i can wait weeks for while others I want in 5 minutes. We must be careful when making overreaching general statements about all online shopping situations.

Jeff Bezos from Amazon has been famous for saying the customers will always want low prices, fast delivery and a large selection. These are probably good general rules but as we will see these are not equally important in all situations.

Let’s look at a few examples of products, individuals or situations that will determine what we look for in an online retail experience

Type of product:

– Does it need to fit just right or is it standard size for all?
– If it is not what I wanted or expected, what will I loose?
– Does it have a material I need to touch?
– What if I have to return it?
– Is it to big to ship?
– Do I have enough information if i can not see it in person?

Type of customer:
– Do I feel comfortable putting financial data online?
– Does my shipping address safely accept deliveries?
– Do I trust a store where I can not see or talk directly to a person?
– Am I tech savvy in general?

Type of situations
– Do I need this now, soon, next week, next month?
– Do I enjoy the act of in store shopping?
– If it comes late what will I loose?

As new technology and customer norms change we will be able to find new and better ways to fit more products into the e-commerce equation. We will slowly be able to provide better experiences for each of these three areas and in the process more and more products will be purchased in new ways, many of these online. 

Retailers need to understand the changes happening both technologically and culturally and utilizing creative thinking or the new norms to make sure that they stay relevant to the customers, use cases and types of products they are currently fulfilling with their business model. – site review

I am looking for some packing tape on staples and starting my search here. first thing i notice is:

1. extremely large search bar.
2. nothing special in the search results

The page that is clicked on (packing tape) has products with popular on top.
1. very detailed product detail page. one of the best product detail pages i have seen.
overall a great site (much improved over past designs)

2. they clearly eliminate any worry by adding this on the checkout page

1.after adding to cart the site has a light box that shows other products. that is fine but they stand out more than the product i ordered. this is fine but i would like the product i added to stand out more and not take that extra second to questions if i accidentally ordered some other products. overall that is not that bad.
2. I am not a huge fan of the logo in the center but it is fine in this design