Online shopping has become so big in recent years that it is disrupting the traditional brick-and-mortar retail industry. Many of the large retail chains we knew over the years, like Toys R’ Us and Circuit City, have gone out of business. Others, such as Kmart, Sears, and JC Penney, have begun closing locations because they’re unable to remain in business with so many moving to the web. Though these stores also have an online presence, the new online-shopping landscape makes it easy for consumers to shop around and find alternatives to the large retailers that used to be conveniently located in their neighborhoods.

Online shopping is not new. Stores have been selling goods online for many years. However, the dramatic increase in online shopping over these last few years (20–25% world-wide annualized growth rate) is likely due to a host of factors making the environment for an ecommerce revolution just right. Some of these major factors including the following:

  • Improved technical, operational, and customer-service capabilities. Ecommerce sites have continued to improve since the first edition of our Ecommerce User Experience report series. Sites have effectively addressed some of the biggest concerns and challenges related to shopping online. Issues such as poor product descriptions and photos, high shipping and return fees, and long delivery times have been largely surpassed. In many cases, the benefits of shopping online have exceeded those of shopping in physical stores.
  • Efficient and available transactions. Sites have made it easy to transact online, with fast, efficient checkout processes. Organizations have invested in omnichannel UX, resulting in improved experiences across many devices and channels. Convenient payment options, like PayPal & Amazon Pay, require little effort to input payment information. Browsers have also gotten smarter, with built in capabilities to remember and automatically fill in credit-card information. On mobile, users can use Apple Pay or Android Pay, or simply scan their credit cart using the smartphone camera.
  • Security. Despite all the news headlines, transacting online is much safer than it was in the past. Secure protocols are used to encrypt personal financial information as it is transmitted between customers and retailers. In general, users in our research studies report being comfortable to engage in online transactions with trusted companies.

Investing in online experiences, meeting the demands of customer expectations, and enabling customers to transact on various channels on their terms will ensure that your organization remains profitable as users move away from traditional storefronts and take their purchases online.

Despite the observed change in shopping , we do not mean to suggest brick-and-mortar shopping is dead. On the contrary, real-world locations are still an important shopping channel. Their relevance in the retail ecosystem is simply changing. People still want to go to the store for many reasons — to pick up purchases, to save on shipping, or to touch and feel an item they discovered online.

In-Store and Online, Rather than In-Store or Online

People don’t distinguish between online shopping and in-store shopping. To them, it’s all shopping. Their shopping experiences might be fully online, fully in-store, or a mix of the two. Customers may start shopping in a store, but make a final purchase from the same store’s ecommerce website. This behavior is called “showrooming”, because the brick-and-mortar store acts as a showroom for customers to discover, touch, and inspect products ‑- only to make a purchase online for the sake of cost-savings, convenience, or access to different sizes and colors. Since users already combine in-store and online shopping, companies that acknowledge this behavior and design their customer journeys to facilitate this type of shopping will reap the benefits.

In our research for the fourth edition Ecommerce User Experience report series, study participants moved from the web to the physical store as well. Users looked at websites to direct them to local stores. They also engaged in “webrooming” (the   opposite of showrooming) — they began their shopping journey online, collecting information to make their in-store experience go smoothly. One user said, “My water softener overflowed in the middle of the night and flooded my basement. I wanted to look up dehumidifiers online, so I’d know where to purchase locally.” Another said, “I’m looking for a vacuum. We have a local Hoover retailer. I just wanted to preshop without running all over.” A different study participant browsed an online website and said, “They had a bunch of good stuff, but I know I’ll go in person in a few days from now and see the items up close.”

There are two major design takeaways that retailers should apply to their ecommerce ecosystem:

  • Blend the benefits of online and offline shopping into one experience. Users move between the store and the web for specific reasons. Discover those reasons that apply to your products and customer base to enrich both channels’ experiences and to mitigate the need of switching channels in order to finish a purchase. These transitions are opportunities for something to go wrong and for lost sales. Try to seal the deal in one interaction.
  • Facilitate necessary transitions. You won’t be able to completely prevent customers from moving between online and offline channels. Embrace this behavior: understand why they do it and work to make channel transitions easy.

Blend the Benefits of Both Online and Offline Shopping

Though people often move between online and offline channels before making a purchase, they don’t always want to. Sometimes it’s out of necessity. Find ways to bring the benefits of multiple channels together in order to reduce unnecessary transitions in the shopping journey. To do this, understand the benefits of each shopping channel and why customers use it. For instance, one study participant went to a furniture showroom to sit in the chairs and decide which one she wanted. However, after making the decision, she returned home to look online at images corresponding to the various color and style options available for the chair. The showroom only displayed one or two examples, and, although it had color and fabric swatches, she couldn’t see what the chair would look like in a different color. She said, “I wanted to see different style and fabric options for the furniture all in one place.”

In this case, the benefit that the user received from going online after the in-store visit was better visualizations of the options for the item she was interested in. The physical store’s strengths included the ability to feel and try out the products, but it lacked a comprehensive view of furniture-customization options. Could the showroom have included kiosks, or digital terminals, or augmented-reality features for users to do this research while in the store?

Consider the alternative customer journey: the user could have started online by looking at the extensive fabric and color options on various chairs, then gone to the store to touch and try the furniture. How can retailers eliminate the need to go to the store at all? Perhaps by offering samples or swatches, comprehensive product information, robust reviews, high-quality photography, or return policies that make people feel comfortable purchasing an item online without having seen it in real life. Eliminating the need for users to go to the store is all about making them feel confident purchasing online through high-quality product information.

One user in our study was very close to purchasing a washing machine on, but, because there was not a close-up image of the control panel on the machine, she begrudgingly concluded that she would need to make a special trip to the store to get a better look at the control panel before committing. She said, “Well, I’ll click to zoom to see what the actual features are [she clicks to zoom]. I wish I could see what the dials actually say, and I don’t know how to do that. I can’t zoom in. To me, that’s not letting me zoom enough. I would expect to be able to see the top control panel. More than likely I would not purchase something like this online without being able to see the product fully. I would go to the Sears store and look at it.”

Sears In Store
One user wanted to buy a washing machine, but the website didn’t show a close-up photo of the control panel, so she abandoned the purchase online.

Facilitate Transitions Between Digital and Physical Experiences

Not all transitions can be avoided and some of them are options built into the shopping experience. Such transitions often occur when users return or exchange an online item or visit a store to pick up items ordered online. The best omnichannel experiences anticipate when customers will move to a store after an online interaction and design the experience to help them make this transition successfully.

For example, send confirmation emails with clear directions as to where to park at the store, what to have ready, and who to talk to.

If there is a predictable transition from the store to another channel, find ways to facilitate it as well. Perhaps that means allowing users to easily access online product pages in store (for example, by supporting barcode scanning in your mobile app or on your website) to learn more or check for additional options.

Behr Paints Seamless
Behr Paints put touchscreen kiosks in Home Depot stores allowing customers to scan the paint swatches they were interested in, in order to continue their consideration of these paint colors at home and online. The kiosk texts a special link to the users phone to access the paint colors at another time.


Shopping doesn’t have to be online only or in-store only. Each channel has its strengths and its weaknesses; it’s important to understand the natural transition points across channels and either prevent these transitions by augmenting the information presented on one channel or facilitate them.

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