Bells and Whistles Fail to Increase Online Purchases

Most of the features added to e-commerce sites to encourage purchasing go unused, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which found the most popular site features remain search capabilities and “close-up” product views. In fact, the study found that search capabilities and product information are not only important to online shoppers when selecting an online shopping site, but they can help e-retailers turn shoppers into buyers and make the online shopping experience more like the offline experience.

Not surprisingly, search functions are the most popular online shopping feature. The majority of online shoppers (77 percent) have used a search function while shopping online and most of these users are satisfied enough with search functions to use them on a regular basis. In addition to being the most popular features, the survey found that search capabilities and product information are most important to online shoppers when selecting an online shopping site. Search functionality and product information are ranked as the most important online shopping features by 43 percent and 40 percent of online shoppers, respectively.

After search engines, the group of online shopping site features used most often and on the most regular basis have to do with product information — including zoom-in images, product reviews and in-stock status. Other online shopping site features such as customer service, personalization, and wish lists, are used by a smaller percentage of online shoppers and are less important to online shoppers when selecting an online shopping site.

“The features that are most likely to increase the likelihood that an online shopper will make an online purchase at that site tend to be features that make the online shopping experience more like on-land shopping,” said Mary Brett Whitfield, director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers E-Retail Intelligence System. “When shopping on land, consumers ‘search’ through the merchandise, narrow the selection for a ‘close-up’ view, have immediate access to availability, compare products, ask other shoppers their opinions and seek out customer service representatives when additional assistance is needed.”

Even when shoppers use features such as personalization and wish lists, they do not necessarily have the impact retailers intended. For example, only 19 percent of online shoppers have ever used wish lists on online shopping sites, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers study. Among the shoppers who have used wish lists, only 13 percent report they have forwarded filled out wish lists to friends and family.

“There is much that e-retailers can do to improve the online shopping experience, but bombarding shoppers with numerous ‘bells and whistles’ is not a sound strategy,” Whitfield said. “E-retailers must monitor how consumers use current site features closely and not be afraid to remove those that do not expedite or add value to the shopping process. E-retailers need to avoid the technology trap — just because something is technologically possible does not mean that online shoppers need or want it.”

The PricewaterhouseCoopers E-Retail Intelligence System surveys approximately 500 Internet users regarding online shopping behavior and attitudes and Internet usage. The January 2001 survey was fielded from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5, 2001 and yielded a sample of 547 Internet users who have ever shopped online.


Features Likely to Increase Online Purchasing
Feature % of Shoppers
Indicating Feature
May Increase Purchasing
“Close-up” product images 44%
Product availability 39%
Product comparison guides 34%
Search function 30%
1-800 Customer service number 25%
Consumer reviews/evaluations 24%
Catalog quick order 24%
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers

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