Focused and Unfocused Shopping

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Online Shopping

I buy many things online.  More and more people are doing the same.

E-Commerce is usually one of the lowest cost and highest growth channels for a retailer.

There are many advantages to the consumer:  Shopping online can give you access to a wider array of products, at cheaper prices, and with more convenience than shopping in the real world.  But there is also a few drawbacks: you can’t touch the items, play with them, ask a salesperson for more information, and you’re less likely to see random things you might also like on the shelves or in display cases.

Shopping takes two forms: Focused and Unfocused

Focused shopping is when you know what it is you want before you buy it.  Perhaps not the exact model, but close enough.  Focused shopping is when you need to buy a new pair of jeans, or you want a flat screen TV, or  you’ve run out of toothpaste.   Focused shopping is when you buy something you need or something you’ve decided you want badly enough to buy.

Unfocused shopping is when you walk by a mannequin, and think “that’s a GREAT jacket!”, or when Amazon’s recommendations pop up something you buy as a result.  Unfocused shopping is when you buy something you probably don’t need, and didn’t know you wanted until the vendor exposed you to it.  The vendor is selling to you.

Online shopping lends itself very well to focused shopping.  As a vendor, to improve your focused shopping volume you need to do three things: excellent SEO, usable and trustworthy website design, and simple purchase flow.  Good SEO will get the focused shopper to the product they want on your site (instead of your competitors), a usable and trustworthy website design will keep them from clicking away, and a simple purchase flow makes it easy for them to buy from you and decreases abandonment rates.  It’s a well understood area to improve in.

However, online shopping generally lags in pulling in unfocused shopping dollars.  It’s harder to do online, where vendors categorize and segment products and unsolicited exposure is hard to come by and usually just SPAM.

A few online retailer do unfocused shopping better than most: Amazon’s recommendation system is pretty impressive.  When I visit Amazon.com in order to do some focused shopping, they get other products in front of me, and by basing these promoted products on my past purchasing history, they are often able to show me tempting products.  Other vendors, such as Ulta.com, are leveraging 3rd party recommendation systems such as ATG Recommendations or DirectedEdge to offer similar functionality on their sites.

Finding new and innovate ways to capture unfocused shopping sales and dollars is the new frontier for eCommerce.  With the economy down, it will be a difficult but critical area to grow for many vendors.  I have a few ideas about how to do this (look for an upcoming post about one idea), but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

By | 2017-05-18T15:16:10+00:00 September 8th, 2009|General|3 Comments

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3 Comments

  1. Andrea Hill September 10, 2009 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    Hey Devon,

    When I first saw the title “focused and unfocused shopping”, my first thought is that this was a post about findability, possibly related to search engines. It still holds true once you’re on a site, but for a particular retailer, you’re already making some assumptions if they’re on the site (that they’re aware of the brand, value it, possibly in the market to purchase SOMETHING).

    The reference to “that’s a great jacket” is interesting when it comes to overall site design. In a store, there is an entire experience around you, and it’s possible for endcaps and mannequins to be there peripherally. It’s a bit different for many eCommerce sites, which generally just offer a list of products. I suppose it’s a question if you can present an experience online that is equivalent to something in a store: where you have available to you the products as well as the peripheral atmosphere.

    I look forward to your next post!

    • Devon September 10, 2009 at 6:02 pm - Reply

      Good stuff! For me, for my focused shopping, there’s very little room for other vendors or sites to get any of the business. I know what I want, and I head right for Amazon/Alice/eBay/or Google with a very specific query. Sure SEO will help with the last channel, but overall it’s hard place to get my dollars from (if you aren’t on that short list).

      If you, as a vendor or site, can figure out how to show me something I like, something I wasn’t planning on buying, then you have a shot at my wallet.

      On-site there’s definitely some stuff that can be done/is being done around recommendations, cross-sell, up-sell, etc… which in many ways is similar to the mannequin (although lacking in full context usually – upcoming post on that).

      But eCommerce sites are also lacking sales people. I can walk into a Nordstrom or an Apple store and say “I’m looking for a few t-shirts I can wear under a few dress shirts to dress down a bit. I like dark colors, fabrics that breathe well, and I hate to dry clean.” or “I love my new iPhone, what are the five must have accessories I should get?” and the sales person will show you a number of options catering to your request and subsequent feedback.

      That’s a tough one to solve on websites. Obviously search, cross-sell, etc.. can help, but it’s a very different scale of assistance versus a good salesperson.

      Just rambling a bit:)

  2. […] This is a huge opportunity for online eCommerce vendors to capture unfocused shoppers. […]

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