It’s Not the Buy, It’s the Emotion

I’ll admit it. I’m that sort of lowlife who visits an art museum and saves the best for last — the gift shop. There’s something about an art-museum gift shop that can’t be found in a Macy’s or a Bloomingdale’s. Somehow, by buying that avant-garde tchotchke, one connects with the artist and his or her message. And by purchasing it from an organization that respects the arts, the buyer becomes a patron — a modern-day de’ Medici. I could go on, but suffice it to say that a purchase made at a museum store is an “emotional buy.”

So, perhaps you’ll understand why I was excited to hear about The site — an online mall representing the shops of the world’s greatest museums — had been described in the March issue of Direct as getting “good results.” Thinking I could get lost for hours, I eagerly logged on.

What a rip-off! That’s exactly what I felt when I saw the home page — a utilitarian grid of fuzzy digital images from the “holiday collection.” Granted, while I didn’t expect the multiearringed, black-attired Bohemian staff of a real art-museum shop to jump out and grab me, I did expect a little atmosphere. I know that the Internet is great for “grab and go” e-commerce, but think of the product, folks. How many of us would just jump onto something called and quickly grab that reproduction of a 19th-century ceramic tile from the Louvre? It seems to me this site lost the “art” of content necessary for many e-commerce sites.

Now I don’t mean to pick on too much. After all, it does link you to information on exhibits and has a nice mechanism for searching by artist, museum, and even artistic period. (Why mess with expressionism when you can head straight to pre-Columbian?) I’m merely pointing out that many e-commerce sites are missing the boat by not recognizing that good content can heighten consumers’ online shopping experience and drive more business online, especially when the buy has an emotional aspect.

In his book “Why We Buy: The Science of Buying,” Paco Underhill says e-commerce sites should consider the five basic e-shoppers:

    Mr. Grab and Go. This shopper zeroes in on the product he wants, buys it fast, and splits. Granted, you don’t need much content for him, but if you think all e-commerce shoppers are “Grab and Goers,” you miss the boat.

    The Browser With Time to Kill. Browsers may or may not buy, depending on what they find. For them, you need to appeal to emotion. Hook them with that overreaching and convincing “brand message,” and you may just reel them in. For example, Columbia Sportswear will link you to its retailers if you want to buy its sportswear, but first you’ll learn from the home page who the company is and what it makes. And best of all, you’ll even get a look at dour chairperson Gert Boyle, a no-nonsense gal who talks tough about her superdurable “ballistic parkas.” For browser-type shoppers, an encounter with Gert just may be the lure.

    The Searcher. These shoppers are looking to buy but don’t know what they’ll find. Simply put, this is the eBay crowd. A good deal, an interesting item, and they’re ready to buy.

    The Info-Seeker. This shopper wants specs, product reviews, how-tos, and a whole litany of information. The Hewlett-Packard and Dell sites try to do a decent job of providing product information, as one would expect from a high-tech manufacturer. Even better is that HP takes a stab at general information about certain product categories, offering articles, such as “Learn More PDAs.” My own industry — healthcare — actually does the best job. Many healthcare organizations provide basic consumer information on common ailments and treatments without necessarily shoving their doctors or services down your throat. It’s all based on the idea that an informed consumer will seek the best services.

    The Post-Purchaser. These folks don’t want to buy but need to get in touch with the company. They’re trying to avoid the “on hold” hell of an 800 number. Lands’ End is the master at reaching these consumers, with its handy “Ask Us” button on the home page and multiple options for contacting the organization (e.g., phone, TTY, fax, email, regular mail, and even live chat).

Of course, the nature of your e-commerce product or service is going to influence how you structure content for your site. However, if there is emotion tied to the buy, please don’t follow the utilitarian “grab and go” agenda. Try for content that educates and elucidates. (You have the whole World Wide Web at your disposal to wax effusive.)

Consider’s offering of a reproduction of a 19th-century Staffordshire rabbit. Tell me an interesting enough story about the ceramic hare, and I just might drop it into my shopping cart. But offer it up like a Wal-Mart bathroom scale and that’s one bunny that won’t come hop, hop, hoppin’ to my door.

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